Ripples of you – Thoughts on Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back” based on personal experience

SPOILER WARNING: If you have not watched “Be Right Back” from Season 2 of “Black Mirror” I suggest you watch it first and come back here.

I lost my wife almost a year ago. She was very active online I have had to deal with her digital estate in an ethical, practical and sensitive way.

Another digital aspect I face on a daily basis is the digital memories of her: Photos, videos, emails, txt messages, Skype chats, sound memos etc

As I worked professionally with social media I have had my concerns about how healthy these digital memories is in the process of me moving on with my life. There are so many assets that combined provides a very immersed experience and as they are digital, they do not fade with time in the same way a real memory or a photograph would.

But that is my professional concern. As the private person, the widower, I am eternally grateful I have all these files. I can relive moments through film and photo, I can digest conversations we had through emails and instant messages and I can listen to her wisdom and wit in the sound files…

…all remembering how she was.

I just saw “Be Right Back” from the amazing “Black Mirror” series by Charlie Brooker, which takes the idea of digital memories much further and asks:

“What if we could create a virtual representation of a deceased person? And what if we could mold an artificial intelligence to behave and respond as a loved one lost?”

To me this is a very appealing idea.

My mind tells me this is wrong. This would never be the same person, this would never be my wife as she would have been.

But would she have been as she was if she had lived? No. She would have grown and changed over the years. Who’s to say a sufficiently “briefed” AI couldn’t evolve in a way true to the path laid before it by her past?

The digital memories I treasure the most are the sound files of her talking and I have considered whether I should make a Magic 8 Ball of answers from her… I didn’t as I knew it would just be 20 different guises of her saying “No”… but that’s besides the point.

The point is I have toyed with the idea of how I could use the assets, the memories to create something that will continue in the spirit of my wife.

I won’t. My mind tells me it is wrong. I am, and probably never will be, ready for a step like this.

But “Be Right Back” has given us a glimpse of what may happen the day our minds no longer say “No”. That day will come the day there’s nobody left who remember the world before digital.

Black Mirror – Be Right Back | BFI Q&A, with cast and crew

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  • daisy wong

    what u say is revealing and i’m sorry for your lost. the black mirror has always make me think. and to my mind, creating a vitual representation of a deseased peroson is a violation of nature, and i reckon that’s why it didn’t work out for the heroine in Be Right Back, too.

  • Thanks for your comments. Since I wrote this I’ve been thinking about digital assets (photos, videos etc) of deceased people and there is potentially a problem as while our memories of the deceased person is fading, digital assets do not. They are as clear as the day they were taken. Paper photos would deteriorate over time alongside our memories.