Now that so much of our lives are "lived" online. What, if anything, will be left behind of our physical existence?
If you haven't already watched filmmaker Gemma Green-Hope's touching tribute to her recently deceased grandmother, take a moment to do so, you won't regret it. In it, Green-Hope uses an emotional compendium of the physical remnants of her grandmother's existence to give us an idea of the type of person she was and the kind of life she lived.
Books, photographs, letters, journals, a blue bike, a pretty knife...
We will all, inevitably, leave behind random and not-so-random items one day. And after watching Green-Hope's tribute, I couldn't help but wonder how different this inevitably heartbreaking "sorting" of possessions will look for my generation now that so much of our lives are "lived" online. What, exactly, will our loved ones sort through? And will it even come close to recreating an accurate representation of our lives?
Take myself, for example. One of my passions is photography. I have tens of thousands of photos that I've taken so far over the years, but take a guess at how many of my photographs I have hanging on the walls in my home?
Five. And they aren't even my favorites (or my best).
Granted, I've printed perhaps a dozen more that I've never gotten around to framing, and I honestly do intend to print and hang more, but for the sake of argument, let's round out that number to about twenty hard copies of my personal photos currently in my home.
So, if I were to die tomorrow (God forbid), there would only be twenty photos to physically "sort" through. Twenty. Out of thousands.
Now, I would like to think that by the time I die (which will hopefully not be for many, many years), there will be people I leave behind who would like very much to have the ability, as well as the opportunity, to "sort" through the tens of thousands of photos I took over my lifetime. After all, my photography is a big part of my life. It's how I choose to express myself. It could (in theory) tell someone a lot about the type of person I was.
Take. for example, the American nanny/street photographer Vivian Maier, who left behind over 100,000 negatives of her work. She never married and had no children or close friends. But based solely on the personal accounts of the few that did know her as well as intense review of her immense body of work, she is described thusly:
She was eccentric, strong, heavily opinionated, highly intellectual, and intensely private. She wore a floppy hat, a long dress, wool coat, and men’s shoes and walked with a powerful stride. With a camera around her neck whenever she left the house, she would obsessively take pictures, but never showed her photos to anyone. An unabashed and unapologetic original.
Unlike Maier (with whom I am in no way equating myself), all of my photographic "negatives" as well as those of most modern photographers, exist almost exclusively in the digital realm.
Let's assume that digital remnants such as photos are accessible and that loved ones will be able to "sift" through them, will the fact that there is nothing to hold or touch change how we think about and grieve for the deceased? Will our lives seem somehow less real? Will the sorting experience seem less emotionally visceral? And if so, what impact will that have on the grieving process in general?
What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.