Over the years several deaths have impacted me significantly. The random, violent, or statistically improbable way in which these lives ended meant they often made the news. Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a perpetual episode of Six Feet Under rather than in the real, non-fiction world.
One person I could discuss this with was my friend Mac Tonnies. He was, like me, mesmerized by the strange and unusual. Mac Tonnies was 34, a non-smoker, and vegetarian who walked every day. On October 18, 2009, he sent me a message on Twitter, went to bed and never woke up. His life was taken swiftly by an undiagnosed heart condition in his sleep. He became one of the bizarre deaths on my list. This time, I couldn't talk to him about it.
Now, posthumously, Mac himself has made the news, featured as he is in the January 9 New York Times Magazine piece, "Cyberspace When You're Dead" by Rob Walker. I was interviewed for the story and quoted discussing Mac's death and what it means for the world we all share and the digital afterlife that follows. In the article, Walker pulled out the core beam of my philosophy: "If people thought about dying more often, they'd think about living differently."
Mac's parents, Bob and Dana Tonnies, never owned a computer until his death and thus had not been familiar with their son's digital self while he was still alive. (I, on the other hand, didn't know him in the context of the odd jobs he worked in Kansas City to feed his writing habit.) Nevertheless, now that they've become acquainted with their son's alter-ego as an interplanetary man of mystery, they recognize this persona as a match for the real-life son who showed up each Sunday to have coffee with them, not as a radical departure or someone they don't recognize.