He was not one to dig up corpses but sometimes they rose from the dead. When he got a “Friend” request from her, his first thought was to delete it but for some reason he left it in his Notifications. It kept coming back up every time he logged on like a bad penny. They hadn’t seen each other for forty years. He hadn’t even thought of her once during that time. Yet now, every day, her “Friend” request stared him in the face.
After five days he went ahead and clicked on “Accept”. For a long time nothing happened. He looked at a few of her posts and he presumed she looked at a few of his. Neither of them offered “Likes” or “Comments”. It was as if two stalkers were circling each other in the dark.
Then, suddenly, a “Like” and a “Comment”. He thought it was odd. He put up a photo of a dinner he cooked for friends and she “Liked” it and “Commented”: “Cool, didn’t know you were a chef.” She included a smiley face and a link to William Blake’s poem The Lamb.
It was odd because he had never before posted anything about cooking. Most of his posts were about his job. He was a vet and he often had funny experiences with animals and their owners that he posted online always starting with “Did you know …” and accompanied with an appropriate picture.
“Did you know that turtles cry? I was operating on one yesterday when I noticed tears coming out of its eyes.” He posted this with a picture of the turtle and he got over fifty “Likes”.
One of his most popular posts was: “Did you know that dog owners often have an uncanny resemblance to their dogs? Science backs this up (he included a link). I once got a man mixed up with his dog and dewormed the man by mistake.” It was a joke but still the picture of the man and his dog went viral.
Never once had he put up any food related posts. Until the one she commented on. In fact, he was turned off by Yuppie nouveau cuisine and pricey wine related posts. But, living in his own glass house, he knew better than to throw stones. Technology gives us these great opportunities to communicate but without any guidance as to how to use them.
So, he did it, he put up a “here we are eating like pigs” post of himself with his friend. His bad. He didn’t bother to photoshop the picture which was crooked and poorly framed. The meat looked like a dog turd. But she “Liked” it. What the hell, he thought. After further consideration, he grew paranoid and started to worry what was going on.
He went through his posts and her posts and discovered she’d been stalking him for quite some time. She had “Liked” several of his previous posts and pictures. He didn’t notice this at the time. He decided to do some more checking.
He contacted some other old friends and asked questions. It didn’t take long to find out that she was dead. Dead! So, obviously someone had hacked her old account or cloned it or something. But why? And why, of all people, did she “Friend” him?
He spent more and more time online to find answers. Eventually he had hundreds of new friends but he still didn’t have a clue what was going on. It was time for a direct attack. He messaged her: “I’m so happy you “Friended” me,” he messaged. “I’ve missed you. Let’s meet.” This, he thought, will expose her.
“That will be difficult,” she messaged back, “as I’m dead.’
“You admit it?’ he replied.
“Why would I dispute it?” she answered and she sent a copy of her obituary.
“Okay,” he said. “But, how can you be on Facebook if you’re dead?”
She sent a line of laughing emojis. “Really? Have you actually read the shit people post online? I mean, the crap that’s posted, liked, shared and commented on, etc? Don’t you agree most people on Facebook are brain dead?”
“That’s a little arrogant,” he messaged back. “Sure, much of what’s on Facebook is bullshit. It is what it is. That’s why I was surprised when you “Liked” a bullshit post that I put up in a moment of weakness.”
“Look, even the dead get sucked in,” she said. “We too find ourselves checking our own Notifications, looking at what’s been recently posted and generally forgetting why we came to Facebook in the first place. I guess I liked that post because I was hungry at the time and I thought ‘Wow!’ this old friend of mine cooks, imagine that.”
“You mean …”
“Yep, we get hungry too,” she messaged. “We’re no different from you in that respect. I wish we could but we can’t actually eat. I suppose you could call it vicarious satisfaction. Actually, isn’t that what Facebook is all about, adding the virtual to reality?”
“I’m enjoying our tete a tete but to be honest I can’t wrap my head around the idea that dead people can actually do things like post on Facebook and message those of us still living. Why don’t you come clean? You’re a hacker, right? Or, you cloned this account? Which is it, and why? Most important, why are you interacting with me? How do you even have time to do all this?”
“Oh, I have an eternity of time, old friend, you should have no doubts about that. The last question first,” she messaged back. “I’m interacting with you because you accepted my “Friend” request. I send out thousands. Many are called but few are chosen.”
“You’re quoting scripture now?”
“Hey, I’ve been there, done that, the Big Lebowski.”
“Did you choose me randomly?” he asked.
“You picked yourself,” she messaged back. As for your other questions, I’m not a hacker, I didn’t clone this account. Its mine. You’re interacting with me, dead as I am. How is it done? Ah, to be or not to be, that is the question, right? In that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil?”
“Okay, I like Shakespeare’s Hamlet as much as the next guy, but that still doesn’t explain how you do it.” He was losing patience.
“Algorithms old friend, algorithms. They are the currency of Facebook. You see, with machine learning, artificial intelligence and the ability to judge personalities, Facebook has discovered the holy grail, eternal life. You may remember that wise saying by Jerry Brown: “with one egg yolk and enough olive oil you could fill up this whole room with mayonnaise.” “Likes” are the olive oil of Facebook, and with enough of them Facebook can create us better than we can create ourselves.”
He scratched his head. “So, this construct I’m messaging with is Facebook’s version of you?”
“Oh no,” she sounded as if she had reached some higher mystical realm, “you’ve got the real me, a better, more complete me, I’ll grant you that, but the real me, temporal and eternal.”
“The real you?” He still couldn’t get his head around exactly what was going on.
“Don’t you have any idea how much you reveal about yourself with you’re posts and “Likes” and “Comments” and “Friends” and by the pages you visit?” she messaged. Facebook compiles these and runs them through their meat grinder and voila!—out the other end comes the real you, the complete authentic version. By their deeds ye shall know them.”
“There you go with the Bible again.” He didn’t believe in ghosts or seances and he felt uncomfortable with her sermonizing.
“After you accepted my “Friend” request, I was amused at how you became a lurker,” she continued. “You began to show up everywhere and I knew it was just a matter of time before you would want to meet me in person.”
“Its true. I was curious about what you were up to, why you reached out to me.”
“I suppose this is as good a time as any. They chose me to be the one to tell you.”
“Tell me what?” Her tone made him nervous.
“Don’t worry. It’s not so bad.”
“What? What’s not so bad?”
“Think of it as an upgrade, sort of like a promotion.”
“Are you telling me I’m going to die.” he asked, fearing the worst.
“Well,” she hesitated.
“Well, ans … me. I … serve to know.” His messages were garbled due to his angst.
“We don’t say it like that here at Facebook.”
“What? You work at Facebook!”
“Bingo. Zuckerberg bet me you wouldn’t guess, but you did. That’s good for me! It means a promotion from Transitions to Acquisitions. Thanks old friend!”
“What about me?”
“You? You’re going virtual. Enjoy it, old friend. Got to go now. I’m no longer allowed to message you from Acquisitions.”
Everything went dark. Then, in what seemed like a millisecond, “Likes” started blinking all around him.
“What’s going on?” he blurted out.
“Zuckerberg’s coming,” answered a voice out of the darkness. “Hit your “Like” button fast or you’ll be sent down to Transitions.”
He toggled his “Like” button back and forth and looked around but there was nothing to see.
“You can stop, he’s gone past now. And, hey, update your profile picture. That picture of you in your underwear with the bull in the mud isn’t appropriate anymore.”
“What picture am I supposed to use? I don’t even know where I am,” he said. No one answered.
Suddenly the “Friend” requests started pouring in. The clicks on his computer sounded like a brood of cicadas. He accepted all the requests. After you’ve “gone virtual” there are no longer restrictions on the number of “Friends” you can have.
He started getting comments on his old posts. It seems several of his virtual friends had pets and wanted his advice. His virtual space lit up from all the activity. That was how he came to Zuckerberg’s attention.
He was given the job of Chief Sorter because of his experience with animals. His job was to separate the sheep from the goats.
“So,” he asked, “I assume I am to proceed according to the prescription ‘the last shall be first and the first last?”
His old friend messaged him from Acquisitions. “You silly. This is Facebook. Here the first remain first and the last last. Now, send me off with the sheep where I belong.”
“Sorry,” he messaged back. “Off you go with the goats, old friend” and he included a link to William Blake’s poem The Tyger.
He heard a murmuring and a chuckle from the throne above. “Yes, a good play. You’re a quick learner doctor.”
And so it was that he found his place in the Brave New World around him.