Social Media: Is there Life after Death?

A Personal View – April 2014

Last Sunday’s 21km Race run in the Kromdraai  / Muldersdrift Area  was appropriately called The Cradle of Mankind. It is an amazing run; out of the hustle & bustle of Joburg with game farms dotted about. It is also a haven for cyclists as there are wide shoulders to accommodate two abreast.

The course is very undulating but not very steep apart from the start at Kloofzicht, a cosy lodge and spa with dams and streams. Being decidedly slower nowadays and a backmarker to boot – I refuse to be called tail-end Charlie in case somebody confuses it with a sexual activity – I was forced to admire the scenery as I did not have any of my usual running mates such as Myer to accompany me on the journey.

At the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve the mandatory lions were in attendance. There were two – a female lion and a white liger, a cross between a lion and a tiger. On a previous race when I was more than a kilometre away, their roar was spine chilling and conveyed the essence of primal African bush as it echoed off the hills. The female was coy, hiding in the tall grass whereas the liger was fearlessly patrolling its turf. On the opposite side of the road were three juvenile giraffes, probably mobile lion supper. The owners do not even have to slaughter the meat and prepare it for the lions. All that is necessary is to release them into the giraffe pens and the natural instincts of the lions would do the rest. I suppose that the lions do get fed take-ways – that is pre-slaughtered animals – from time to time but not of the McDonald’s variety unless they are a government minister.

After that my mind in attempting to occupy its time, was forced to focus on anything but the race. Then it occurred to me that we know little about one’s ancestors like my great-great-great-great grandfather who was an 1820 Settler. Off the top of my head, I could name three things about him, and if I enquired, I could add his date of birth and death & possibly in some church, his date of marriage and baptism. But that was all. That was the sum total of my knowledge of my forefather. On reflection that is probably 100% better than what most people can do. I then considered my grandparents. As my paternal grandfather died in the 1920s & the grandfather on the distaff side in the 1950s, I know nothing about them; even their names.

What about me? Will I be forgotten totally after less than a generation? I became quite philosophical at this point, battling both with the hills and my emotions.

I became quite depressed at the thought. It was only after my father-in-law who fought in Russia for 4 years died, that I wished that I had known something – anything – about his experiences in this cataclysmic war. How did he feel about the fighting? What was it like on the vast open steppes of Russia in present-day Ukraine? I know that he was wounded a number of times but what happened. It is all a blank.

It is ironic, I mulled, that it was only in death that I found this important; when the person was gone, unable to relate these tales to me. Never again would I get the opportunity to understand his world or my father’s experiences as an artificer in the artillery in North Africa. What was it like to survive on a water bottle of liquid a day, enduring suffocating sandstorms and the blazing sun?

It reminded me of that song The Living Years by Mike & the Mechanics. Doesn’t it express the same emotions, the same feeling of loss as Mike Rutherford questions why he didn’t do things in the living years? It is amazing. When a person is still alive, still able to communicate, still able to be part of one that one ignores their past, of what they experienced, of what made them tick. It is only on their passing that one reflects what could have been, how one could and should have known more about the other person.

I have had a number of close friends die long before their allocated time. All very vital, lively persons with much to offer society yet all were taken prematurely. On every death, I have been forced to reflect on what life is and whether I am using it to the fullest. The answer is surely NO! I chide myself. Making solemn promises that I should discard petty jealousies, inane hatreds and superficial dislikes; I pledge rather to focus on the positive, the future and the best in people.

Ineluctably and inexorably the vortex of life sucks me back in into the deadly whirlpool of negative emotions. It is times like this that I need to run in order  to regain clarity and purpose in my life. The solitary run through unspoilt nature like the Kromdraai area is just such an elixir. I return revitalised and re-energised and again recharged to view people in a positive light, not to anticipate the worst.

I dream on, knowing that the ephemeral feeling will not be sustained by the facts of dealing with life itself.

As I returned from never-never-land, I reflected on whether the social media would guarantee one everlasting life not in heaven but as an everlasting online presence. What would happen to my Facebook Account after my death? Would Facebook delete my account after five years for non-use, ten years, never?

If so, would my grandchildren – when they felt so inclined – delve into it and view me as a living person with all my foibles and idiosyncrasies as a real person and not merely as a picture or a date of death, the real me.

But is this the real me? Is it not just an artefact of that part of my life that I shared with the world? What about the real me; the world outside the frivolous & mundane that one posts on the internet?

If my descendants had to write a biography on me based upon my Facebook Account what would they write about? Stripped of my essence & being, it would not place me in context whether I was an extravert, a thinker, a daydreamer, indolent or perhaps dissolute. Did I make people happy or was I an annoyance, an aggravation to their life? Did I make people smile or sad?

Does Social Media expose the real person beneath the smiling faces & glitzy parties?

I think not. Finally I deduce a profound conclusion: the social media will not open the door fully, it will only be slightly ajar allowing strangers an edited view of one’s life but the real person will be interred along with the body never to be experienced again.

Sad, inevitable but true.

Now back to reality.

Life is only for the living; so live it fully while you can.

And more importantly, share part of yourself with other people.


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