By Johnny O. Trail — A few months ago, I was asked to write a biography for a notable person in the history of the church, N.B. Hardeman. As I read about his life and wrote a brief biography, I wondered what biographies of the future might look like.
You might not realize this, but you can give another person control over you Facebook page at the time of your death. I have made provisions for my wife to have full authority over what happens to my page at the time of my passing. In all honesty, I would love for future generations to have access to my page for the purpose of letting them know about my religious convictions—to potentially help them in finding Christ and other truths revealed in scripture.
In doing grief recovery, people are touched by friends and family members who go to the Facebook pages of deceased individuals to offer up words of condolences and love for the deceased person. As a part of helping people cope with loss, I sometimes suggest that family members and friends read what others thought about the deceased. Oftentimes this is cathartic for the family who is seeking solace in their times of distress.
On the other hand, there are those who want the page taken down. The memories and comments are too painful for them to bare. Those who express these sentiments often contact Facebook to determine what they can do to have the deceased loved one’s page removed. Those who want the pages removed are typically few, but this does happen.
Have you ever thought that your social media pages might become your autobiography? We research people for biographical purposes. We read books, newspaper articles, and search archives for vital information. What if your progeny wanted to learn about your daily routines of life? Theoretically, they could potentially learn the diminutive details of your life.
If future generations obtained access to your social pages, they would learn about your religious views. They might learn about the family dog that entertained you and your kids for many years. They could marvel in incredulity at the number of funny “cat videos” you have shared. They might learn about foods that you fixed for your family via the pictures you shared on your postings. Every detail of your life might be shared for several generations to come.
In writing biographies of people who lived prior to the advent of electronic media, the details of a person’s life can become fuzzy. Certain aspects of that individual’s early life might remain unknown. For example, extraordinarily little is known about the early life of Jesus. We learn of His birth, his life at twelve, and then His earthly ministry. The gospel’s typically cover three years and the last few months of Jesus’ life.
Events that remain unknown in a person’s life might remain willfully unknown by autobiographers. There are events in a person’s life that could be too traumatic or distressing to share with others. In previous generations, it would have been easier to leave certain things out of an individual’s biography. When every event is being recorded via social media, leaving things out might not be as easy.
Social media could literally trace a person’s life from birth to the grave. Maybe their parents posted about their birth and young life until such a time as the person obtained their own social media pages. One’s progeny might be able to access videos of great, great grandparents’ childhood. We could literally have a self-recorded explanation of a person’s life for many individuals in our society.
From the standpoint of one who loves history and genealogy, this is exciting to me. Future generations might look at my social pages and writings to see what I thought and believed. They can see pictures of my family. They can see religious articles I have posted. They can see the expression of my grief as I discuss people who have died. They can even determine my political leanings. Personally, I believe this could be a great thing for future historians.
The flip side might create shame, anxiety, and fear for some. What if future generations read your posts and are left with the conclusion that their ancestors were foul-mouthed, oversexed, vile winebibbers? If I were making posts of this nature, I would be embarrassed for my progeny to think I was shallow and carnal in my nature. I fear that is the image—whether intentional or not—that some are going to leave behind.
In writing autobiographies, one can pick and choose the things that are included and excluded from the work. The things we post on social media might not leave us with that luxury. A posting that contains potentially embarrassing content might haunt us even after our deaths! Is this really what we want to leave behind?
Fortunately, most of my friends on Facebook are Christians. If I see posts on my news feed that are offensive, I simply delete the post and unfollow the offending party. I am pleased to say this is not typical of those that I tend to “friend.”
While we are young, we typically do not think about what future generations will believe about us. As we grow older, we start to think about the influences that we leave behind and the impact that we have made upon our children and upon the world for Christ. Given the nature of writing and social media, we can potentially influence people for many generations to come.
What do you want future generations of your “followers” to believe about you? I know for a fact that potential employers look at the pages of potential employees to see what they are posting. What you say in social media settings has an impact that you might be unaware of in your immediate context.
When I think about the unintended future consequences, I am reminded of a king in Judah by the name of Hezekiah. King Hezekiah allowed emissaries from Babylon to inspect his treasures. Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah warns him of the impending doom that he has brought upon the land of Judah. Future generations would be taken away into Babylonian captivity and the riches of Judah would be plundered by the invading forces. How will future generations be impacted by the decisions you make now?
In a sense, Isaiah’s question might be something for us to ponder as we allow people to investigate our “house” and see what is revealed in our social media postings. Isaiah 39:4 says, “Then said he, ‘What have they seen in thine house?’ And Hezekiah answered, ‘All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them.’” What are you revealing in your life to those in this age and in ages to come?