Death and avatars might seem unconnected. But, I was struck by an article I read in the Daily Telegraph (27/10/15). The article was based on the ambition of the animator and tech developer, Simon Keown.
He was speaking at an exhibition on the ability to create a 3D avatar of a passed loved one. He does this through rendering pictures and videos of a deceased loved one.
This loved one would be interactive and able to ‘know’ what you have been up to by connecting to your social media feed.
The Benjamin Franklin quote comes to mind ‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’
Soon, for the living at least, that view might be outdated.
In my opinion, the psychological impact of this could be disastrous. For example, see a family at Christmas, opening presents under the Christmas tree as the mother comes in and says nonchalantly, ‘Let’s switch on Grandma for the day!.’
The ability to choose to interact with a virtual image of someone who is no longer with us stunts our growth as individuals. We would be perpetually stuck in the grieving process – unable to transition to a new way of living without the knowledge we can fire up the deceased at the click of a button.
However, we don’t have to buy the product. You can choose to go through the grieving process naturally without the virtual world-impacting us. I would argue that the societal pressure, guilt and moreover choice of being able to resurrect a loved one at the click of the button would be too much for us to live with. The thought of being able to see and ‘interact’ with someone we miss so dearly, even if it is artificial and limited would be overwhelming.
Again, the little voice in my head says, well many of us have videos and pictures of passed loved ones, what’s the big deal?
Love and death in the virtual world
There was a documentary on Channel 4 recently on a similar subject. Instead of grieving however the subject of the documentary was based on love, or rather, the growth of love in the virtual world and the lack of physical love within Japanese culture. Many men have actually fallen in love with characters from computer games, designed to mimic being in a relationship. The interactive element is how we establish and sustain our emotion. The avatar of our loved one would know what you have been up to on a daily basis. You would get a sense of interaction with the image which is not present in the passive media of video and images.
As much as society teaches us to stay smiling and dismiss negative emotions and pain, it is inevitable. Technology, and the virtual world, is attempting to keep us in a perpetual state of positivity. When, in actuality, the physical world is a lot less predictable and a lot more volatile. This is possibly why many of us are connecting more with our virtual selves than our physical ones.
Does the ability to resurrect a loved one in the form of an avatar devalue your past relationship? The experience we had with them is heartfelt and emotional which cannot be replicated. The ability to create a computer-generated version leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The engineered nature of the avatar’s personality and the experience we have with them. It is almost as if we are being tricked or duped into restoring that connection with them. When in reality does it really?
Unfortunately everyone must go through the passing away of a loved one. Psychotherapy can give you space to understand your own mental space while helping you through the grieving process.