If you were to walk into University College London today, you’d more than likely pass by Jeremy Bentham, sitting there, looking at you from his bench – a grip on his walking cane. Unfortunately Jeremy has been dead for years.

Bentham was a peculiar utilitarian philosopher recognized for his “Greatest Happiness Principles” and his desire to create a panopticon ( a new prison reform system of the time – not Facebook).

A. J. Keen uses the peculiar caricature of Bentham’s corpse in the closet as a foundation for his new book Digital Vertigo. Sure, people have been striving for immortality for as long as we’ve been around. Pharaohs, religious beliefs, Heaven’s Gate and the like all have one foot in the afterlife.

Bentham’s story is interesting though because when he died, he wanted to leave leave a part of himself for the world to see…post-mortem. He referred to his future dead self as an ‘auto-icon.’

It’s this image of a mummified self that Keen uses to compare our creative energies that are constructing our future identities that will outlast our organic states and perpetually mingle with the pixels on the Internet (or whatever they call it when we’re gone).

Perhaps we all desire some measure of immortality. A book, a poem, a song, a marker or special memory is the best we can anticipate for our future non-self. Of course, that was before social media and the Internet.

While musing about the words I’m typing, the incessant streams from other individuals are pouring out by screen. Look at me, follow me, like me are all a part of the modern zeitgeist and it’s a noisy place.

Obviously, there’s a addictive need for recognition in our generation. Perhaps we’re all culturing our inner artists? For the first time ever, we have all the tools to create, share and extol our existence.

Bentham tried, but unfortunately, they removed his head and had problems with his body parts keeping form. He’s for the most part a skeleton, hay and porcelain these days (although the do bring the head out for meetings).

Just like Bentham, we have to pause and consider how this content curation will be used in the future. Will Facebook retain the rights to my photos and my content uploaded to their system? Will Twitter own my random thoughts? What about my blog? I know I’m presuming someone will care or profit from the organization of the pixels and letter fragments that we’re creating, but these questions are amusing considerations.

Old Jeremy had problems with pranksters messing with his dead body. Abe Lincoln had a problem too. Evidently the folks in Russia are little tired of another corpse on display too.

What happens to my photos in the future? Will elementary students take my photos and construct a animated gif on the head of cat? Will they cast me in a bad movie and use my image to create a bad stand-in for some seedy zombie movie? These ideas  are probably worth a few science fiction titles, but they do little to deter my actions today.

Maybe that’s why this phenomenon is so fascinating. Not only are my words, photos and video becoming a part of the digital record, but my own “auto-icon” collected on hard drives around the world will be accessible much to the same display as old man Bentham.

Of course, I’m not going to compare my own philosophical treaties to the 19th century philosopher – besides I have way too many distractions to transform or amuse future academia.

Nevertheless, welcome to our future me everybody. These words were written on July 17, 2002 at 9.58 pm.

Where are you now?

Check in and let me know if you made it to the last line? Who know’s I still might be around….I hope.