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“Two certainties in life exist: You are born, and you die.” With these words Max Doherty, a vaguely sinister spokesman for the fictitious service Envoy, takes viewers on a journey that messes with our paradigm of life after death.

Seriously. Check out the video. It’s like Twilight Zone meets Vanilla Sky. Only on Facebook.

 

There is something eerily convincing about this video, and not only are the social implications pretty huge, but if we take it a step further, the possibilities are almost terrifying: I’m thinking Zombie Apocalypse in cyberspace. Quick, call M. Night Shyamalan. And Max Doherty, (who in real life is visual designer Max Batt), plays his part so convincingly that I actually thought Envoy was a real service and felt a chill run up my spine.

(Ok, I also tried to search for it on Facebook.)

The overwhelming reaction here at Pravda Media after watching the video was “oh wow, creepy.” And according to Max Batt, “Creepy” is exactly what he’s going for:

“I think that reality is creepy and will get much creepier from here on out! And this is a powerful emotion that resonates with people, so it’s a way in.” Batt told me in our interview.

“Envoy started with observation,” Batt explained. “I had an acquaintance who committed suicide around the year 2008. After observing his Facebook profile after death, it became clear to me that the memorial / remembrance behavior on Facebook was very different than anything going on in the physical world. Over time, I started noticing some errors Facebook was making: saying things like ‘You haven’t talked to Brett in a while, why don’t you reconnect with him,’ when in fact, Brett was dead and could not connect with anybody. These types of social algorithms were meant for the living, but Facebook has not been able to solve the problem of compartmentalizing the dead: so the dead continue to occasionally be run through programs intended for the living and are, for a moment, in a way, reanimated. This was where I started with the Envoy project.

While Envoy could maybe someday inspire a real service, Batt notes that reproducing jargon and slang would prove challenging:

“A group of computer scientists contacted me after Envoy was released. They were super excited about it, and they were convinced the only thing within Envoy that is actually impossible, currently, is the artificial reproduction of slang. So this huge growing field of natural language processing has not yet reached the benchmark of slang reproduction, really.”

Having lost several family members and a few close friends, I feel especially moved by Envoy’s social implications. I mean, there have been so many — too many — times in the last few years when I have yearned to have some kind of contact with a loved one who had passed on. Grief is powerful, and can feed on the illusion of bits and bytes that bring about conversation in real time.

If Envoy were a real service, would I lose touch with reality? Would I forsake my in-real-life friends for the screen names of my mother or Aunt Judy?

And Batt admits that “[Envoy] probably isn’t the healthiest thing for mourners to do. But there will be services like Envoy. Dynamic mourning will materialize in one form or another, so people need to be prepared for it. So much of our lives are already digitally mediated that the physical expiration of people might gradually become less important over time.

There may be a day in our lifetimes, perhaps relatively soon, where we don’t really need to “move on” in the way we think of it today. But ask me again after I experience a profound death.

Still, Envoy is not a real service. Well, not yet, anyway. But if it were, Max Batt says he would definitely want to use it. And yeah, I think I would too.

What about you?