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Reading Your Own Obituary

By David Haldane

March 4, 2024



I have a confession.

Sometimes I imagine my own obituary. What will it say, I wonder, and how will it say it? When my life is over, how will I be remembered and what difference will I have made? Will my obit be written by someone who knew and loved me, or by an anonymous stranger who hated my guts?

This is embarrassing to admit, but occasionally I have even tried mentally writing that obit myself.

Last week I read an essay by someone who didn’t have to. “When I died the other day,” Deborah Vankin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “no one really noticed. That is, aside from a few alarmed members of my family.”

The news of her death, Vankin reported, came in a phone call from her father. “De-De-Debbie, hi,” she recounted him saying. “Listen: please DO NOT BE ALARMED by what I am about to send you!”

It was a lengthy obituary gone viral on the internet. “Deborah Vankin, an esteemed journalist whose eloquent storytelling and insightful narratives illuminated the world around us, has passed away,” the notice began. Among other things, Vankin reported, it described her as “wielding her pen to unveil the city’s pulsating heart,” and extolled “her kindness” and “warmth.”

“A blurry hodge-podge of bogus tributes,” the author concluded.

But it was also disturbing, she added, because the obituary assault comprised many print and video postings apparently acting as clickbait for various web sites. And, even more insultingly, she complained, it appeared to have been written by an artificial intelligence chatbot.

“Often,” one very human expert told Vankin, “there’s an action involved to get your information and eventually scam you. But the biggest thing is clicks and views. They want to grow their channel. Clicks lead to money.”

And that’s when I had my brilliant idea. Why wait until I’m dead? Why hang onto the slim chance that newspapers exist in the afterlife? Why not read my obit now?

And so I did.

Opening MS Copilot, the AI chat mode of my web browser, I offered explicit instructions. “Give me an obituary for David Haldane,” I ordered. And within an instant, there it was.

“David Haldane, the prolific writer and intrepid explorer of life’s mysteries, has taken his final journey,” the obituary began. Hmm, not quite on the level of “esteemed journalist” writing “eloquent” and “insightful” narratives, but what the heck, I’ll go with it. “Born in the heart of the American counterculture,” the narrative continued, “he danced to the rhythm of rebellion, penning tales of love, loss, and liberation. His words were like brushstrokes on the canvas of existence, capturing the hues of human experience.”

Well, OK, I thought, that’s more like it. Then it got to my years in the Philippines.

“But it was the Philippines that truly claimed his heart,” the obit gushed. “David, with his salt-and-pepper beard and eyes that held both wonder and sorrow, settled on the archipelago’s shores. There, he became an expatriate, a wanderer in the land of mango trees and jeepneys. His prose transformed, infused with the tropical heat, the laughter of children, and the scent of adobo…His words were like sunsets over rice terraces, golden and fleeting.”

Wow, I thought when I’d finished reading, that guy sounds pretty good.

Now that the blushing has worn off, however, I have two serious concerns. First, that exaggerated flattery will get you anywhere. And second, that this damn AI program writes better than I do.

So, here’s my plan. From now on, this column will be authored by Copilot, thus freeing me up for more important pursuits like lying on the beach and drinking beer. And, lastly, on that distant day when I finally succumb to heat stroke and liver cancer, please have it write my obit.





David Haldane is an award-winning American journalist, author, and broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines. His latest book, A Tooth in My Popsicle, is available on Amazon. This column appears weekly in The Manila Times.






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