‘Incoming message. Subject: E-bill reminder from Facebook. Message: Mr. Caputo – To renew your deceased family memorial package for calendar year 2074 at a cost of 450 bitunits, say ‘Package 1’. For a 24-month renewal at a cost of 850 bitunits, say ‘Package 2’. If you would like to terminate your deceased family memorial package and lose access to all Pics, Vids, Files, updates, comments and data posted to Facebook by your registered deceased family members, say ‘Terminate.’
‘Package 2, you heartless bloodsucking cunts.’
What choice do I have? This is what Mom and Dad said they wanted. No funeral, they said, nobody does funerals anymore. Just cremate us, spread our ashes over the lake, and tell us you love us on our Facebook Memorial Pages every once in a while. How could they have known 20 years ago that Facebook was on its last legs, that the Chinese were going to swoop in and buy the company for bitdecimals on the unit, or that those Chicken Eaters would find a way to pinch us all by ransoming the legacies of billions of dead people? Everyone thought Ghost pages would always be there to help us mourn for free. Mom and Dad didn’t leave money behind to pay for any of this.
I can still see old man Zuckerberg’s fat smug face on the five-year anniversary of the bankruptcy, projected right into the middle of my flat on the world news, saying his only regret was not being as practical as the Chinese. He knew there was money in charging for Ghosts, but was blinded by his belief that Facebook could make a comeback. Be cool and relevant again. What did some 80-year-old coot know about cool? Rest in peace, Sleazeberg.
The guy could never accept reality. Facebook had a teen problem before the Euro-Russian War. By the 2050s, they had a living users problem. February 4, 2059. That was the day Facebook officially had more profiles of dead users than living users. The Airnet memes were in rare form after that headline popped. Deathbook stuck and that’s what everyone’s called it ever since.
But there goes another β.850 out of my digiccount, so looks like Deathbook gets the last laugh. The Chicken Eaters always end up laughing to the bank. I should be used to it. I’m just so damn pissed we’re getting bilked for death again. The United Americas had been trending away from burial to cremation forever. Over 90% of nonreligious folks were already getting cremated, then all those hold-out Catholics in the Latin States came along after Pope Francis’ last decree: Cremated remains could be spread or buried on any grounds, since all earth is holy, and the deceased would still be resurrected. Whatever voodoo you’ve got to sell yourself, I say. Then the E-R War. The Dying Times. No family – if there was any family left, depending on where you were from – could afford all those funerals. Or ridiculous caskets to burn the body in. No, you just stick the body on the conveyor belt, take the nice little box and bury it where the dead want, and the Digital Executor arranges the online legacy according to the will of the deceased. Death care went from a 100 billion industry in the old dollar economy to a dead industry (pun intended) in the new bitunit economy in a few years.
Nobody uses Facebook anymore, other than the old fogies who refuse to change, but there are still 8.7 billion user profiles (about 6 billion Ghosts) warehoused in some saltwater-cooled and powered data center at the bottom of Mono Lake. More than user profiles. Memories. Legacies. Lives. Not to get dark, but grief, the Egyptian genocides. Ghosts are all that’s left of an entire culture and UNESCO is footing the bill.
I think we really messed up when we stopped printing Pics and storing Vids on Microdrives. Our entire histories are digital, and all those sucker Facebook addicts from back in the day are now owned by the Chinese. They were warned, right there in the Terms & Conditions. No surprise that Zuckerberg’s lawyers quietly won ownership of Ghost content in court decades ago.
Just stop paying them, how practical is that? Mom and Dad uploaded everything on Facebook Cloud. Everything. I can’t even remember when computers came with gigs of hard drive space. Who needs it with infinite free cloud (accessible anywhere, anytime thanks to the Airnet)? But now I don’t have a single Pic or Vid of my Mom. I don’t have any of my Dad’s old stories he wrote for me when I was a kid. Grief, that man could spin a yarn. I love those old stories so much. I read them to my kid. And they’re all gone, completely inaccessible, if I don’t renew their memorial package. Every Pic and File copy just disappears the second I stop paying.
I can’t let my parents evaporate into nothing – not even a tombstone or urn to cry over when someone misses them. I can’t let my kid or, maybe one day, my grandkids grow up without hearing their Grandpop’s stories. I won’t lose them like that.
As long as we care about the dead, Deathbook has us right where they want us.
Jay Hodgkins’s fiction has appeared in Oblong and Eunoia Review. You can read more at http://www.jayhodgkins.com or follow him on Twitter (@JayPHodgkins). He has worked as a speechwriter and journalist for more than a decade. He holds an M.Sc. in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh and a B.Sc. in commerce from the University of Virginia.