We Won’t Text Back When We’re Dead

I am really, really good at using technology to make sure people are still alive

Erica Buist
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readDec 12, 2018

--

Credit: noLimit46/iStock/Getty Images Plus

I’m in a London branch of the Apple Store, about to buy a pair of Apple watches. And not for any of the standout apps or ludicrously expensive straps, but because it has a “send your heartbeat” feature.

“Place two fingers on the screen until you see and feel your heartbeat. Lift to send,” says the website. It’s because when my husband Dion is in the pub, his boss and workmates are quite snooty about him texting me every hour or so to let me know he hasn’t died — but with this watch, he could just discreetly send a heartbeat. This must have been invented for people like me: smart people who’ve noticed that when people die, they don’t send out a bat signal.

“This heartbeat,” I ask one of the salespeople, “is it his actual heartbeat? Like, could I analyze it for irregularities or defects, if I was a doctor?” He looks at me like I’ve just asked him to sniff the inside of my cheek, and says “No,” as politely as he can muster. So, I pass on the watches for now, but at some point they’ll probably update that feature. Surely everyone will be asking the same question.

Death hangs over all of us like a watch-tapping chaperone. In Silicon Valley, they know this, and are pouring billions of dollars into ambitious life extension technology like Google’s Calico, or Peter Thiel’s biotech portfolio, though so far to little avail. It seems like the only thing that all the advances of the past few decades have done is to intensify our mortal terror by giving us hope that death will be optional soon — but maybe not quite soon enough, for some of us.

People hate it when you think they’re dead. Either they’re uncomfortable with the suggestion that they’re as perishable as a carrot, or they ask if you’re “alright” and suggest you “might want to see someone” — just for reacting logically to the simple fact that people die without letting you know.

Dion calls it stalking. It’s not stalking, it’s just seeing if they’ve posted on social media in the last few hours and, if not, sending a WhatsApp message to check if the “message received” or “seen message” icons light up. If it does, they’re probably alive and I’ll move on. Until…

--

--

Erica Buist
Human Parts

Writer, journalist, author. First book THIS PARTY’S DEAD coming in Feb 2021 from Unbound. Preorder: unbound.com/books/deathtivals