The ultimate social networking site

April 30, 2007, 9:04 PM UTC
Fortune

gravestoneI was talking to my friend Stu the other day, which you’d think would be an everyday thing because we work in the same shop, but it’s not. Stu is mostly virtual and whatever there is of him that is real doesn’t converse much. Which doesn’t mean to say he’s silent, because he’s anything but. He’ll talk your ear off a mile a minute, only dipping into the world of listening for odd moments before taking off into the ether again. Which is not a bad thing. Stu has more ideas in a nanosecond the you or I do in a nanoyear. So I always listen.

Anyhow, he’s in between a few other things on the line and we’re talking about stuff I can’t even remember what it is because it’s all going by so fast, too fast, in fact, for the Boomer Brain, when out of the great mosh pit of his mind I hear him say something like, “Hey, I gotta go, but I had this idea it’s just a crazy phrase that came into my mind but how about this…” Then he pauses for an imaginary drum roll and says: “A social network for dead people.”

That’s what he said. A social network for dead people. Then he hung up.

Now, you know, at first I just thought this was a funny idea, which it is, of course, completely ridiculous, but if you just give it a minute to sink in…

… a social network for dead people…

Let’s look at it for a minute. As a marketing concept.

First of all, is there any real difference between a virtual person and a dead one? A virtual person does not really exist, even though it can do a bunch of things from buying virtual real estate to engaging in virtual conversations and exchanging virtual fluids. It can, in short, do only virtual things.

A dead person does not really exist, either, even though, unlike a virtual one, it has the benefit of having once actually existed, leaving a record behind that is much more tangible and meaningful than a virtual person. Like that virtual entity, the dead person can, at this point, do only virtual things.

So we must ask ourselves: are the virtual things that a virtual person is capable of doing any less “real” than the virtual things that a dead person can do?

Well… what virtual things can a dead person do? None, if no author steps into the persona of the dead person to fill it up and accomplish those virtual actions. But say you or I decide to take that role – to become the face behind the empty self of the once-real individual – why, that dead person can post interesting pictures of him or herself, engage in the purchase of land, jewelry or other products appropriate to the dead person, and otherwise engage in a completely self-respecting virtual life!

Yet in this ever-changing, all-things-are-possible virtual space, how much more does the dead person bring to the table than the simply virtual one! To begin with, the dead person has an actual, verifiable portfolio of deeds, aspirations, successes and failures that can be measured in quantifiable terms. Very often, the dead person has a wealth of already-published thoughts, paintings painted, scientific theorems expostulated on, wisdom earned and communicated. All that is called for to reanimate the dead person is a host willing to carry forth this rich legacy. The virtual person, on the other hand, has no such multi-dimensional character. It is just an avatar. A walking haircut. A shallow front behind which hides a small and insubstantial living person with very little to recommend itself.


Picasso self-portrait
Let’s just take a brief moment, then, to imagine our ultimate social networking site. On any given day, we can chat with several Picassos, one from the blue period, one from the heady days when he and Braque were inventing cubism, the savage revolutionary tearing Franco to pieces, the aged satyr rutting every young art dealer in sight — they are all here, at war with each other, ready to talk, dispute, insult the Philistine.

Look! Over there it’s Genghis Kahn, surprisingly urbane and so much more Genghis Kahnattractive without the attendant smell of animal fat with which he was always saturated. And over there is Samuel Johnson, a hell of a raconteur, and Casanova, who seldom spent the night alone and is very willing to talk about it, and look over there! There’s Charles Lindbergh having a beer with all the gang at Berchtesgaden! And Ed Sullivan and Lucy and Desi and Jimi Hendrixand Janice and Mstislav Rostropovich, who just joined the site the other day. And hey, look over there, there’s my Uncle Al, who was a really nice guy and always a pleasure to talk with about any subject, and my grandfather, who remembered what it was like to dodge the Czar’s army, and my dad, still mad at any Trotskyite he can get his hands on. It’s nice to see them all again.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to join. Virtually, I mean.