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“Wait – I’m still alive!”

Imagine you open the newspaper tomorrow morning (or your iPhone news app) and you see your name, front-and-centre, in the…

By Kate Adach , in Mere Mortals and New Media , on January 28, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , ,

Imagine you open the newspaper tomorrow morning (or your iPhone news app) and you see your name, front-and-centre, in the obituaries.

Or imagine you receive an email notification that your wife is dead while she’s sitting right next to you.

"Opossum makes the obituaries for performance playing dead." April 25, 2009.

Deathswitch, Dead Man’s Switch and similar websites, offer the “service” of spreading the word of your earthly departure.

The automated system works by dispersing email announcements to your loved ones if you fail to respond to one of its regular prompts. The prompts link back to the website where you’d be required to click a button that reads “Wait – I’m still alive!”

That’s right, as if tweeting, status updating and GPS tracking weren’t enough, you can pay Deathswitch $19.99 a year to reconfirm your cyber existence.

The site boasts that it is “bridging mortality,” and it recommends a  number of uses including: distributing your passwords, final wishes, banking details, love notes, unspeakable secrets, funeral instructions or last word in an argument.

Beyond the immediate risks inherent in providing an anonymous source with your bank passwords and vital details, there’s the next, perhaps more pressing, concern: what if it’s wrong?

What if your iPhone battery dies but you don’t? Or if you go on vacation, or oversleep, or if (gasp) there’s simply a glitch in the system?

You could end up like Pat Burns.

Two months before his death, the former NHL coach – not to mention his friends and family – would learn from the media that he had died.

The false information propagated Twitter feeds and news sites last September in the rapid, real-time nature known only to our era.

“An honest mistake,” explained the Toronto Star newspaper columnist who’d sent the first Tweet.

Cliff Fletcher, an NHL executive, had hastily spread word to a group of hockey reporters that Burns had lost his battle with cancer. Fletcher believed he was sharing sad news; he was mourning.

Burns, meanwhile, was out grocery shopping.

“I’m still alive and kicking,” he told the Star the next day.

And, “I’m not dead, far f—— from it,” he assured TSN while making the rounds to remedy the media’s death switch glitch.

If you’re a public figure in this culture of immediacy-reporting, it may only take one reporter to negligently trust a single source, before you get word that you’re dead.

For everyone else, you can take a chance with a website.