Monday, January 24, 2011

My Virtual Suicide: A Social Networking Experiment

Have you ever heard one of those horrifying news stories that creep you out so much that you never forget them? Mine is the one about the single woman dying in her home only to be found after days or weeks or even (OMG!) after the neighbors noticed an odd smell. Sadly, that isn’t a news story that I’ve only heard once.

A few years back I fell down the flight of stairs that were inside my old apartment. I was saved from major injury by landing on a pool inner tube lying at the bottom of the stairs. Thankfully I had my cell phone with me (actually I accidentally threw it down ahead of me when I fell), so I was able to call my sister. (For those of you who are curious – when the shock wore off, I realized my ankle was just slightly sprained, and an ice pack at work helped me feel ok again fairly quickly.) After that gravity induced scare I started leaving my shoes at the bottom of the stairs and not putting them on until I was on the way out the door. My heels were what had tripped me.

That could have been a lot worse, but really I’m not scared no one would miss me if I suddenly disappeared. I talk to my family almost daily. I work at a job that would notice my absence quickly; 30 unattended high schoolers are a bit noticeable. I have great friends that would check on me if I didn’t respond to emails or texts. And while I complain about being lonely, I really do have a great support system that would miss me. I say they’d miss me, but mostly they’d notice that the world had suddenly got eerily quiet as my incessant chatter would have come to an abrupt end. ;-)

Where did this lead me? Well I have about 120 followers on Twitter, and I realized I tweet 20 – 50 tweets a day. Many of those tweets are actually to certain people, so they don’t come across everyone’s daily feed, but it’s still a lot of virtual chatter. So I asked myself,

If I committed virtual suicide with my social networks by suddenly stopping all posting, how long would it take someone to come looking for me?

Then I realized I’d been looking for a topic to blog about, and this would be GREAT blog material!

Facebook isn’t the most fair spot for this experiment since I don’t post there daily BUT some of my tweeps are Facebook friends too, so I knew/hoped if I stopped on Twitter, they’d head over to Facebook to see if I was gone from there too. Here’s my last status update on Facebook:

Yes, it was a shameless 'I want this for my bday' link share!

And here’s my “time of death” on Twitter: Run of the mill random response to someone about Five Guys Burgers and how I've never tried it.

I told my sister, LaRae, and my best friend, Tracy, what was going on, so they wouldn’t mess it up. I also made some predictions, a hypothesis if you will, so I wouldn’t feel bad if didn’t get any responses after 24 hours. My prediction was that it would take at least 3 days (72 hours) for someone to notice my virtual death and ask what was up.

It took about 40 hours. Wow was I off in my guess! Around 10:30 this morning my good friend Kyle sent me a DM (direct message) on Twitter asking if I was ok because I had been “oddly quiet.” (Background: Kyle and I converse through Twitter like some people text, so it’s like I cut off all conversation with him.) I immediately responded asking him not to be annoyed at me for running a social networking experiment and thanking him for checking on me. After his reply I realized what my official second to last tweet had been:

"I think I'm having an existential crisis but not in a you should worry about me or an I want to talk about it sort of way. Make sense? :)"

Whoops! *red face* I have been mentally working through some stuff, but I didn’t mean for that tweet to be alarming. My apologies!

What did I learn from this experiment? I learned it’s really hard to be virtually quiet. I’m just not a quiet person, virtually or in real life. I also learned I tweet too much (but I’m not sure I care to change that). I learned that just because I didn’t reply to anyone for 40 hours didn’t mean I could make up for lost time! (Kyle almost instantly got a 400+ character tweet containing replies to about 6 different things he had mentioned while I was silent!) I mostly learned that real friends will notice when you disappear.

What are the results of my experiment? While my virtual body went cold, I’m not sure that it would have started decomposing yet at least not to the point of smelling. Honestly I’m not sure on that at all since when I Googled how long it takes for a body to start decomposing, I got sick of reading about it and was getting grossed out, so I gave up. Either way, I learned that my friends will notice my lack of chatter, but my random followers who don’t know me beyond my tweets will not. So THANKS KYLE for noticing I was gone! You rock! Besides I told Tracy that if no one mentioned my absence it meant that I didn’t need to be tweeting and would just stop for good. So you can all breathe a sigh of relief as I am back and tweeting again in full force! *wink*

I leave you with this: although many of you live with someone, so your actual death would be noticed quickly, how long would it take your virtual death to make waves?

Disclaimer: This was by no stretch of the imagination a "test of friendship." It was simply something I'd been curious about. When I wrote "real friends" I meant those who have taken time to get to know me beyond my virtual identity. Someone who I just know by twitter username alone is a virtual friend. I don't know much about their thoughts and personal lives except for what they tweet. Others know me in real life or else know me through emails and such where we've really gotten to know each other are what I consider "real life friends"... real friends. No one was being tested! :) Love you all!


  1. I'm just glad that it was an experiment. It definitely had me worried after your 2nd to last tweet and then the silence.

  2. :) I felt like a moron when I realized what that 2nd to last one was. I told my mom and she busted out laughing at me! I appreciate you worrying though. No one else seems to have done so. :-/ (and pity party!)

  3. I didn't have a reason to worry - I talked to you on IM Saturday evening. :-P

  4. Was Saturday the night I was actually there & replied? No idea why I've been leaving IM logged on lately... I tend to leave my laptop closed when I get home.

  5. Your timing on it was interesting. Since you committed your "virtual suicide" on Saturday, I know I saw you and even had lunch with you the next day. Hard to get alarmed about what's going on with Joanna when she is eating tacos across the table from you. Also, I wonder how many of your twitter followers are like me and check twitter far less over the weekend than on weekdays. Because of the timing, I'm not sure you can conclude everything that you concluded from this experiment. Just my opinion, however.

  6. I don't think I concluded anything bad though. Most of my followers tweet throughout the weekend. In fact, someone noticed my absence far sooner than I thought anyone would. I wasn't really looking for the casual tweeter to notice.

    On a side note: My lack of chatter was welcome to be mentioned over lunch had someone at the table noticed it. I wasn't concerned about people who speak to me daily noticing. LaRae pointed out that those people who see me wouldn't be as concerned. I didn't want anyone to think I was actually dead... just virtually absent. Just saying.

    As always, you are welcome to your opinions though. :)

  7. Yes, it was Saturday pm, b/c you had to get up early b/c of praise team practice at 8a. And we were talking about how they should make practice during the week.

  8. Ah, yes. People tease me that I have a crazy amazing memory, but you have me beat. Nights are starting to run together for me here lately.

  9. For the record, I apparently committed virtual suicide 2.5 days ago, and still no one has noticed.

  10. I have told you multiple times over the course of our carpool (and online at least once) that you are missed when you don't tweet.

  11. For the record, so we're all clear: This was by NO MEANS a "test of friendship." :)

  12. I'm one of those crazy amazing memory people, too... In fact, I almost never write anything down. However, I've been using a lot of outlook reminders lately b/c we have some new employees and I have to follow up and make sure they did what I asked them to do. In the past I could just pass it along and trust it would get completed as requested. Now, not so much... It's a little bit frustrating b/c it means more work for me. :-/