I’m in Amsterdam for a conference called The Web that Was: Archives, Traces, Reflections. Today consisted of some interactive workshops, including one run by Amy Johnson and Ariadna Matamoros Fernández using speculative writing to think deeply about the future of the internet. In their workshop “Future historians of the internet,” they asked us to respond to prompts by writing speculative fiction about possible future scenarios. I found it fascinating how this writing brought out our assumptions, hopes, and fears. Lots to think about in using this method!
Just for fun, I’ve shared one of my quick stories below – written in only 15 minutes, and with just a bit of light editing. I didn’t do a great job of thinking into the future, since perhaps this scenario could happen today. But maybe it raises some ideas to consider in terms of social media’s role in our daily lives. Either way, it’s certainly intended to be read as humorous fiction – enjoy!
Workshop facilitators’ prompt: Write an advice column for dealing with the digital histories of deceased loved ones.
Dear Ann Landers,
As you know, we live in very different times these days. I’ve had an Instagram account for my pet turtle, Petey, for about ten years now. Everyone loved Petey – he competed on those animal game shows and also featured in pranks that I carried out – he had 8 million followers and multiple brand deals. Sadly, Petey and I were up to our antics again the other day – we went to the store and tried to scare people by having Petey hide in the broccoli. When they went to pick up some veggies, he would bite their hand and then they would jump and I’d broadcast it on Instagram and everyone laughed and the hearts flew across the screen.
One lady jumped so much that the jar of peanut butter in her basket fell out and hit Petey on the head. The old guy was just not able to handle that and he croaked. We had a beautiful funeral for him – broadcasted on Instagram and archived forever on YouTube. We’ve been grateful for everyone who has sent flowers and for the kids begging their parents for little Peteys so they can also continue the tradition. But now he’s gone and I don’t feel much like continuing his Instagram account – in fact, I can’t – no one wants photos of a dead turtle or the turtle’s funeral plot, that’s just messed up. So, what do I do? Do I delete the Instagram account? Is there any way I can salvage the fame that Petey and I spent so much time working to accumulate? More importantly, what is the best way to make sure he is remembered respectfully?
Concerned Turtle Widow
Thanks for your letter – these things are never easy! I’m sorry for your loss but I’m happy to hear that you and Petey had such a fun life together. And that he was such a profitable pet for you. I bet after all of those funeral costs, you’re more concerned about getting by than your letter lets on. Yes, we all want to be respectful – and you probably know as well as I do that there are protocols for that these days. When someone – pet or person – dies, Facebook turns their page into a virtual museum of sorts. In turn, Instagram sends you a printed photo book of their best shots and a USB, and then archives the account forever in its databases. You probably have both of these on the go for Petey and they’ll be kept pristine by the social media platforms in exchange for your social media data until none of us are around to even care anymore.
But having a pet who was an influencer – well, that’s something different. Looking through Petey’s account, it’s pretty clear that he was the star. You were…well, a prop. You fed him, looked after him, and helped him do his thing. But the real charisma in these photos is Petey and his one-toothed grin. People loved him, and rightly so. Plus, his partnerships with Pepsi and McDonald’s didn’t hurt – he was a turtle for the people, a turtle for everyone. His collabs with famous YouTubers were hilarious – like the episode of My Drunk Kitchen where Hannah Hart almost cooked him along with the lobster! Fans were seriously concerned. Now that he’s gone, what do you have? I bet you look into his now empty artificial pond every day and ask yourself that.
Don’t despair CTW! I think you must take hold of Petey’s legacy and learn from what he left you. The hundreds of Insta videos, stories, and pictures – they not only tell the story of a witty turtle but also the best way to get rich and famous using Instagram. It’s time for you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make something for YOU. No more taking a side role, no more doing the grunt work – get your influencer swagger on, Petey style.
As we can see, the first thing you need to do is to set up an account – something along the lines of a theme you can really get behind. Petey was about pranks, turtle identity, and making fast food great again. He went and liked all of the influencer accounts on these topics. Then he started to post stylized photos of these things, and established influencers liked him back. Just like Petey, you have to take risks – don’t be afraid to do something outrageous that sparks a lot of attention. You’ll offend some people but others will love you!
Only by learning from your turtle friend will you ever make a successful life for yourself CTW. And Petey will be smiling down at you from heaven, taking selfies and swimming in a divine pond.
Image from Flickr.