The zombie apocalypse is already here and it’s happening, though not as fast as the movies tell us. Something is afoot, but nobody seems to know precisely what. Social and news media warn us of impending disaster, financial, ecological, environmental, from space. During the 20th century, science supplanted religion in doom-saying and prosyletizing of the end of days. According to mainstream scientific research, we will have entered a point of no return on climate change by 2050. Prognoses of mass extinction events are a matter of when, not if. No longer do we rely on dates painstakingly teased out of the Bible, but on algorithms in tech and finance to tell us how to adjust our attitudes to global catastrophe, how to prepare for widespread networks failure and disintegration of all that currently is. It’s easier to get behind numbers than to rely on notions of faith. Y2K was averted and these days most don’t really remember the event itself or the lead-up to it. In Europe, rightist populists and moderate leftists spin elaborate diagnoses of the situation, to which they say to most likely outcome is World War III.
What is happening out there? Is capitalism nearing its end? Will one more crisis be capitalism’s final undoing, or the straw that broke this insatiable camel’s back? We have entered a new era in which the undead or non-dead are already with us and it may have nothing to do with the end of days. In this scenario, the end time is protracted, and the apocalypse will take a lot longer than we might expect. The non-dead are us and we are them. There are now countless undead ‘walking’ among us. I hate to invoke the word, but the ‘liminal’ world of the internet is to blame.
There are literally billions of names, accounts, screennames, aliases, personalities, personas, avatars, and so on, online, in that semi-lawful, semi-lawless, completely full and completely void space of the internet. When we’re alive, another self also exists, simultaneously and more or less independently, online. When I open up a bank account, buy a car or apply for a mortgage, ship boxes by UPS, file a formal complaint, get a job, etc., or, in fact, if I do any sort of activity online that isn’t totally anonymous and requires my network or online ‘presence,’ this other self becomes more pronounced, fleshed out. I feed and fill my online self with attributes and data as I would my real self. I open Instagram and Facebook accounts and I become real to millions of others instantly. I do not even have to be a real person, but exist online as one.
What happens next is quite intriguing and bizarre. As in the real world in which I live, occupy space and interact with my environment, my online self does something similar. It interacts with the environment of cyberspace and those that occupy it. While I work or sleep, my online self can interact and be interacted with, without me. My credit score can be pinged, my criminal record can be accessed, my accounts may be hacked and information stolen, people can post to my Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, my identity can be stolen, money can be withdrawn from my bank account, and on and on.
Most interesting is what happens after I’m dead. My online self can actually continue living, as if I hadn’t actually died, as was the case with Joyce Vincent, a 38 year-old British woman, found dead in her apartment in 2006. Apparently no one noticed she was dead for two years. The bills were paid, set to autopay. The rent was drafted every month, the heat was on, electricity going and the occasional noise coming from the flat was blamed on the TV, that was apparently turned on and off by random junkies wandering in and out of her apartment. The smell of death permeating the corridors was thought to be coming from the trash bins. Vincent’s online self continued to ‘live’ despite her real self being long-dead. She was, up to the point of the discovery of her body, in fact, undead.
In 2014, the five year old corpse of Pia Farrenkopf, a Michigan woman, was found in her home. In a similar scene, the woman’s bills were set to autopay and neighbors assumed everything was alright because they knew she traveled a lot, kept to herself and her yard was neat and tidy. Turns out that one of the neighbors cut her lawn for her while Farrenkopf was away and never bothered to check inside her home. What he would’ve found was a rotting corpse but an online self that was alive and well. It seems that the only way for an online self to truly die is to ‘kill’ it, either financially, by draining bank accounts, personally, changing one’s identity, or ephemerally, by actually deleting every trace of myself from cyberspace. It would seem that simply letting the cyber-self go and do what it’s going to do is much simpler than actually taking the time to find all traces of my identity online in order to get rid of it.
Gerald Cotton died in 2019 and with him went $190 million locked away in QuadrigaCX crypto exchange to which he held a password. When he died the password died with him. There are theories as to what actually happened to Cotton. If he’s really dead, then his undead self is now the owner of a lot of cash, strapped in crypto currencies and it’s going to take more than a military force to extract that money from his reanimated corpse. It is also entirely plausible that Cotton faked his death to get his hands on the cash. In either scenario, we are dealing with essentially a similar premise. Cotton is dead and undead at the same time, even if he is actually alive elsewhere, while QuadrigaCX still controls the assets. To get at all the crypto, Cotton will have to ‘give up’ the password in some way and there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of investors willing to ‘kill’ him again for their money.
In some instances, like on Facebook, dead people continue to receive messages, photos, season’s greetings and birthday wishes as if they were still alive. Yet the opposite can also happen. JP Morgan Chase once declared a Florida woman deceased. This had ruinous consequences for her credit score and caused serious strain for the woman to prove she was still alive. In another story a veteran had to prove over four times to the US VA that he was not dead. The VA stopped paying his pension benefits, claiming he was dead. In each scenario, each person was rendered undead, a flip-side of the same coin. We can see how in these scenarios are the possibilities that people remain alive online while they are in fact dead in real life, or considered dead while actually alive. In both instances we are dealing with a form of the undead, or what may appropriately be called post-dead.
One can see that with the rise of technology and the internet, humanity created the conditions under which the existence of the undead is now very real. As we approach the hypothetical catastrophe, the possibility of an undead apocalypse becomes more and more plausible and inevitable. AI, automation and robotization, these are real problems and consequences of too much doing and not enough thinking, but the undead problem, goes beyond even this speculative possibility. It is a problem we are not thinking about, because it doesn’t present itself as a real problem. In every venture, we must think of what we know, what we know we know, but also what we know we don’t know. The last variant, to think of what we don’t know that we know, is also a very important component of the problem of the undead. There are just too many variables. It is as if synthetic evolution is occurring in cyberspace, despite and/or regardless of humanity controlling it or acting upon it. The undead may not exist in the real world, but we have most certainly ‘created’ them online and then brought them into this world.