Exploring eternal cyber life after death
BRISBANE: In La Boite Indie’s new production a man earns a place in the eternal afterlife by uploading his consciousness to a social media site. Andrew Shaw talks to actor Liam Nunan about Machina.
What happens to your Facebook page when you die?
Well, Facebook suggests you appoint a ‘digital executor’ – “to take care of those old emails you saved, your photo albums on Flickr, and your Facebook profile.” You can have your Facebook page ‘memorialised’, frozen, although friends and family can still post, presumably to send you updates in the afterlife in what used to be called prayers.
If you want to deactivate a Facebook or Twitter account, you must prove you are related by uploading a death certificate or the deceased person’s birth certificate. You still won’t be able to get access their account: social media privacy extends beyond the grave (except when they want you to upload copies of death/birth certificates).
What happens to your cyberself after death is the subject of Machina, a play by Richard Jordan, who won the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award for his comedy 25 Down in 2008. Machina is a futuristic social media site offering a new service – ‘Going Inside’ – where you upload your consciousness to the site. After one user, David, suicides but seems to live on in Machina, it’s left to those behind to figure out what happened and perhaps hope for a sign from David in his digital Hades.
Above: Liam Nunan and Jack Kelly in rehearsal for Machina. Photo: Nick Morrissey
The Machina website (recently hacked) has a video explaining how the ‘transporter chip’, which you place in your mouth, converts your mind to data and uploads it. “At the end of the upload your heart will stop and your digital self will be sent to the cloud,” assures the voiceover. (www.whatismachina.com)
Liam Nunan plays David’s former boyfriend, Tom. “It’s about this artificial afterlife and whether it’s real or not,” Nunan says of the play. “The question is, did David commit suicide or has his consciousness been uploaded into Machina? And is that possible? The play is about the people left behind after his suicide. I don’t think my character actually believes David’s been uploaded to a machine. But it’s disturbing to think that that’s where someone thought they were going – to a better place – when really they’re dead. It raises a lot of questions about faith.”
Nunan, a 26-year-old NIDA graduate, says he’s wary of social media. “When you meet someone on Grindr or Tinder they’re promoting an image of themselves that’s perfect and unreachable. So when they finally meet someone they’re afraid to show who they really are. They try to constantly maintain that image they previously projected.”
His character, Tom, writes a blog called ‘101 First Dates’. He’s one of those men who finds fault almost immediately with any potential new boyfriend, the reality never living up to his standards of social media enhanced perfection.
“I don’t have Instagram and that kind of thing and I’ve been sceptical of how much I get involved with Facebook,” Nunan says. “I meet so many people, randomly at a party or something, and they’ll add me to Facebook and I feel like I know them because I look at their photos and their articles on the feed and the witty comments they make.
“But that’s an edited version of themselves. When I meet them again they’re nothing like what I thought of them through Facebook. Social media makes it look like everyone is having so much fun, everyone’s beautiful – when it’s not necessarily the case. You go on and suddenly all your friends are models, they have all these beautiful Instagram pix of themselves and they always seem to be at parties and events and they’re being liked by everyone. You have to remind yourself that it’s a digital persona and not who anyone really is.”
In Machina, Tom decides he’s going to make an effort outside social media to meet someone in reality and he meets Scott, played by Jack Kelly, a man he would not usually be attracted to. “Things are awkward, it’s not how he would approach a relationship when he’s chatting on Grindr and he’s got a façade,” Nunan says.
“We get into a relationship and my character has a lot of trouble with the idea of a committed relationship outside of a computer screen. He never gets the opportunity to promote himself digitally first. He has to get used to being himself in front of Scott rather than advertising himself as something and trying to hold to that.”
Will social media evolve ways of keeping us alive online after death? In the future will algorithms imitate our actions/reactions as if we were alive, so that 80 years from now you can still be putting in your 2 cents’ worth just as you do today, except it’s being produced by your digital simulacrum? Some things would have to go – selfies would be problematic – but you could still be liking and commenting on images of your great-great grandkids as you would when you were alive. You would have an online soul.
“I think the idea is fun to play with,” Nunan says. “But I don’t have a belief that we have a persona, as such, after we die. But I can’t be 100 per cent sure of that. No one really can.”
Machina, The Loft, 6-8 Musk Ave, Kelvin Grove, May 8 – 24, 2014. Bookings: laboite.com.au or (07) 3007 8600.