Meet the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine

Posted by Nishant Shah at Apr 08, 2010 10:35 AM |
Digital Natives live their lives differently. But sometimes, they also die their lives differently! What happens when we die online? Can the digital avatar die? What is digital life? The Web 2.0 Suicide machine that has now popularly been called the 'anti-social-networking' application brings some of these questions to the fore. As a part of the Hivos-CIS "Digital Natives with a Cause?" research programme, Nishant Shah writes about how Life on the Screen is much more than just a series of games.

In the new year, 2010, one of the most startling stories was of mass suicides. About 50,000 people were affected. Legal cases were filed. The interwebz were abuzz with the tale of how they did it. There was talk about a website that was responsible for this. The blogosphere went into a frenzy discussing the ‘new lease of life’ that these suicides provided. Videos of people caught in the act found their way onto popular video distributing spaces. And for everybody who talked about it, it was partly a joke and partly a gimmick. However, for a significant population, across the globe, the news came as a shock and a moment of self-reflection.

Meet the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine. It is a simple online machine which helps people commit digital suicide by destroying their digital identities on popular social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Myspace. It is software that deletes every single transaction which you may have ever performed in your digital avatar. Messages sent to and received from friends, stored notes, results of viral quizzes, pictures of the last party that you attended, status messages describing state of mind, high scores and social assets on social networking games, links shared, videos uploaded – everything gets deleted, allowing you one last chance to re-live your digital life before it locks you out of the 2.0 web for once and for all. To many this might sound funny, but for the people, whose lives are lived, stored, shared and experienced in the online spaces that Web 2.0 has developed.

We find them in universities and colleges, multitasking, preparing a classroom presentation while chatting with friends and keeping track of their online gaming avatars. We encounter them in offices, glued with equal passion, to dating or social networking sites, and moderating geek mailing lists. We chance upon them in homes and bedrooms, sharing the most private and intimate details of their lives using live cam feeds and audio/video podcasts. If these images are familiar to you, you have encountered a digital native. It might have, recently, been a ‘child’ who knows how to use the mobile phone more effectively than you do, or a teenager who can connect your machine online while thumb typing on the cell phone, in a language which is not very familiar to you. It could also be the saucy colleague in office, who is always on the information highway, making jazzy presentations and animations or playing games with their virtual avatars, or the taxi driver who has learned the power of GPS maps or even the chaiwallah around the corner who uses his mobile phone to download new music and conduct a romantic affair.

These techno-mutants are slowly, but surely taking over the world. By the end of 2010, the global youth population will be about 1.2. Billion and 85 per cent of it will be in the developing countries of the world, growing up with digital and Internet technologies as an integral part of their life. They might not be a significant number now, but they are going to be the citizens of the future, taking important decisions about the destinies of nations and states, creating businesses and running economies, educating young learners and shaping public opinions. And they are learning the fundamentals of these actions in their online interactions on Web 2.0 spaces using digital tools to morph, mobilise, mutate, and manage their social, cultural and political lives and identities. It is of these people that this column writes of – people who are marked by digital and Internet technologies in strange and unprecedented ways.

Originally published at as a part of the Knowledge Programme: "Digital Natives with a Cause?"