Digital Ghosts

By David Michael Newstead.

When I was a kid, my dad died. And for years, we kept receiving mail that was addressed to him in one form or another. Usually, it was junk mail or things like that and not anything of substantive importance. But it kept showing up regardless.

I moved away after high school, but periodically relatives would confuse our names and they’d end up giving me my deceased father’s mail, thinking that it was for me. At the time, I found these mail mix-ups very irritating since this continued well into my late twenties and it served as another reminder that my father was absent from my life.

I mention this story now, because, in part, it’s the analog version of a phenomenon that’s mostly moved online and I’m left perplexed whenever I see it.

For example, I was on Facebook a while back and I looked at the People You May Know section. Confused, I immediately called a friend and asked “Didn’t John Doe die like five years ago?” And he had. Yet, there he was. A profile suspended in time, outlasting its namesake and abandoned by the internet.

Of course, even for the living, it’s not as if everybody takes the time to delete their AOL instant messenger account or their Myspace page. One day, they just stopped using it and moved on to other platforms. Again and again and again. So now, our digital selves are scattered all over the internet in bits and pieces from throughout our lives.

To what end? I don’t know.

For how long? I wonder sometimes.

About two years ago, a girl I went to college with passed away suddenly. I hadn’t spoken with her in a long time and I’m still not clear about the circumstances surrounding her death. But to this day, I still occasionally receive junk emails from her email address with spam links to some website.

And it’s a very strange feeling.