The real ghosts in the machine
This is going to be a bit of a creepy post. You've been warned.
The Internet has had enough tenure for quite a while now where there are many, many people who had web presences that are no longer amongst the living. But what the weirdest part is (the Reddit thread in particular concentrates on this) is when the people you know that have died still have active accounts - especially those that still show them as online.
Were I to think back on the first instance I remember of someone paying respects to the deceased online, it was probably with BBSes. I vaguely remember a few message threads about that. On the Internet I believe the first time I encountered it was in IRC. There would be some notice in the topic that some admin had died with the R.I.P. and so on. Forums would also routinely post threads about people who passed on.
With social networking it is totally screwed up. MySpace was the first, and oh, how badly it is handled. What would occur is that a friend of the deceased would take over the page and reorganize it as a tribute site of sorts. What would happen is that a whole bunch of MySpacers not knowing the person was not of the living would still post "CHECK OUT MY NEW CD!" or some other type of spam in the comment section. It's just sad.
With instant messaging it's even more screwed up. Google Talk in particular can have instances that on a server reboot shows a user as "online" for a few minutes. If that user is one of your friends still on your contact list, you can imagine how that would send a shock wave through your system to all of a sudden see that dead friend online.
The Internet does not know that death exists - yet. As far as its concerned, a user is a user whether alive or dead, therefore any account owned by a person formerly amongst the living is now a ghost. It's a very unnerving thing to think about. Millions of accounts by people who are no longer with us, yet still exist as cold bits of data in a giant machine. To what end? Nobody knows.
One thing I'm quite certain about is that future technology will allow us to download our brainwaves into the machine, thereby giving us the ability to live forever. It's not as far-fetched as you would think. Would it be The Matrix style? No, because we wouldn't be attached to our bodies any longer. Upon death, our brain patterns would be downloaded, saved and then activated inside the machine giving us life again - just differently. It would all work as long as the machine stays online.
To put this in perspective, imagine if you could "call" a distant relative that died physically 300 years ago. You go to your computer in the real world, "dial" that person up, and there they are. In the machine. The "world" they live in looks just like yours, except it's all in the system. You talk with them and have a normal conversation. That person in the machine is alive, but not in human form.
I truly can see this happening, possibly within my lifetime. It's interesting to think what the "world" in the system would be like. People could choose to be young or old, male or female, maybe choose to be an animal like a cat or a wolf with the ability to speak? Would currency matter? Would people have jobs?
Like I said, it's interesting stuff - and yes, I want it to exist. I don't see it as cheating death, I see it as extending life.