Web3 aims to provide new answers to old questions

The age-old question of “what happens after we die” is one that humanity has grappled with for millennia. Religions, philosophers and opinion leaders have advanced theories about the fate of each person after life on Earth. So far, no factual, science-based conclusion has yielded a satisfactory answer.

Psychologists have understood that the fear of death – or the awareness of mortality – is an important driver of human action. Developments such as cloning and the creation of virtual worlds, which were previously science fiction, have become a reality, perhaps as a new struggle to answer this question – or even beat death.

Now, in the era of the metaverse, humans are the architects of a new digital world and thus a new digital life. In the Web3 space, the metaverse has received a lot of attention from outside investment and increased participation from legacy companies. The metaverse sector will be worth an estimated $5 trillion by 2030.

Many believe that the metaverse will reshape the way social life is structured.

This new genesis of digital life naturally raises the same timeless questions – with a twist. If life is reinvented in digital reality, will death be different? Specifically, what happens after we die in the metaverse as humans and avatars?

What happens when we die digitally?

The existential question of what happens after our death remains unanswered with regard to the final or next destiny of our souls. However, cultures around the world have different ways of dealing with death-related ceremonies, which is the human experience of deciding what happens to our bodies after death.

As more people continue to digitize their identities, create avatars in virtual worlds, and own digital assets, the question of what happens after death resurfaces.

The introduction of social media was one of the first cases where people had to deal with a digital identity after death.

For example, with Facebook, a user’s profile is “memorized” as a “place for friends and family to collect and share memories after a person dies.” It also serves as a security feature to prevent future logins.

Facebook’s parent company Meta is actively pursuing metaverse development. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the company, made an explainer video for Meta’s metaverse in October 2021.

While the clip didn’t explicitly mention death, users started asking death in the reverse question. Soon after, a dystopian meme circulated on social media with a quote attributed to Zuckerberg: “When you die in the metaverse, you die in real life.”

Nevertheless, founders and executives of metaverse platforms are toying with the idea of ​​death as digital reality evolves.

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Frank Wilder, the co-founder of the metaverse platform Wilder World, told Cointelegraph that as we build sacred sites within the metaverse and create new avatar versions of ourselves, the concept of “dying” is no longer limited to the death of a physical body. :

“In this digital world, we have the ability to imagine new forms of existence after death, such as preserving someone’s digital consciousness or creating a virtual memorial.”

Wilder said honoring the “sanctity of life is a delicate exploration,” and people will inherit different ways of choosing how to honor their lives.

Cemeteries in the air

For Mariana Cabugueira, the chief architect and urban planner of Wiami, Wilder World’s first digital city, this “new dimension of reality” invites a new approach to preserving legacies.

Take, for example, the concept of cemeteries. In her view, metaverse cemeteries will be less like cemeteries and more like designated memorial spaces with capsules containing memory and soul, created by the owner for digital rest.

“These digital capsules share how we want to be remembered and honored, tell our story and convey the warm feeling of a soul.”

While avatars don’t age, the spirit behind the avatar can replace the digital character and deserves closure and celebration, said Cabugueira, adding: “Cemeteries with memory capsules will be places for closing life, for ending our characters – a ourselves from which we departed – or a phase of life we ​​are no longer in.”

A memorial stone from Remember, an ecosystem that allows users to create memorials for important life events. Source: Remember

In Wilder World, Cabugueira has a vision of how these spaces will take shape visually. She said these memorial spaces would be tall “like cathedrals,” with symbolism connected to the sky and light.

“Remembrance is no longer just a funeral, but a celebration of life evolving,” she said.

Ethics of the digital life after death

Digital cemeteries are only part of what happens after a digital death. A more pressing question is: what happens to our digital assets and data?

Yat Siu, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Animoca Brands, believes we are still early in this discussion. He told Cointelegraph that those who think about these things do so more in terms of “how to transfer custody of assets to heirs instead of managing a metaverse identity.” Siu said:

“In the metaverse, your digital persona can still have influence and impact, even if it is no longer controlled by you. In fact, a digital persona can become even more influential and therefore more valuable after physical death.”

Marja Konttinen, the marketing director of the Decentraland Foundation – the founding organization of the Decentraland metaverse – said virtual worlds are often seen as something of the future; however, they can also be a powerful tool as windows to the past.

Konttinen stressed that a digital twin that continues to live after the physical death of its users could raise ethical questions similar to those surrounding artificial intelligence and deep counterfeiting.

“It certainly opens up the possibility of creating a permanent virtual mausoleum of our memories and experiences, perhaps in the form of an NPC. [non-player character] that looks and speaks like us, forever living in the metaverse,” she said.

‘Thanotechnology’ and ‘dreams’

Death in the digital reality has united emerging technologies with older fields of study around death and bereavement.

Cole Imperi is a thanatologist – a specialist in understanding death, dying, grief and bereavement, derived from the Greek word for death, “thanatos” – and founder of the School of American Thanatology. She told Cointelegraph that there is a subfield in thanatology called “thanotechnology” that focuses on the intersection of her field and technology.

She told Cointelegraph that digital spaces could offer more ways to “connect the dead to the living seamlessly,” that physical spaces don’t:

“The digital afterlife offers more opportunities for continued connections with our departed loved ones, and I also believe it offers the greatest opportunity for progress in how we remember and remember our loved ones.”

In 2009, Imperi even coined the term “dremains,” which refers to the digital remains people leave online after they die. Imperi helps run the ThanaLab, which tracks “online memorial patterns and developments related to user deaths.”

She said the digital death of users is becoming more and more common, and it’s only natural to bring this aspect of our physical lives into a digital space.

Do we have answers?

The metaverse has been going on for a long time. In 1992, American science fiction writer Neal Stephenson first coined the term metaverse, even before the existence of any of the platforms we have today.

That said, even as we have more tangible ideas about the metaverse and its capabilities, it’s still in its infancy. This means that important concepts for humanity that have a place in the physical world, such as death, are still taking shape digitally.

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Digital architects like Mariana Cabugueira are now rethinking the future of digital cemeteries, and researchers like Cole Imperi are tracking the digital remains of human life online.

We may still not know what happens after we die; however, in the metaverse we get much closer to the answer.