Rob Walker wrote a long piece on “digital ghosts” – the online remnants of people who have died. He talks quite a bit about Mac Tonnies:
I spoke to a half dozen people Mac Tonnies met online and in some cases never encountered in the physical world. Each expressed a genuine sense of loss; a few sounded grief-stricken even more than a year later. Mark Plattner, who lives in St. Louis and met Tonnies a dozen years ago through the comments section of another blog, decided that Posthuman Blues needed to survive. He used software called Sitesucker to put a backup of the entire thing — pictures, videos, links included — on a hard drive. In all, Plattner has about 10 gigabytes of material, offering a sense of Tonnies’s “personality and who he was,” Plattner says. “That’s what we want to remember.” He intends to store this material through his own hosting account, just as soon as he finds time to organize it all.
Plattner was one of several online friends who got involved in memorializing Tonnies and his work. Dia Sobin, an artist who lives in Connecticut, met Tonnies online around 2006; they communicated often by e-mail and phone, but never met in person. She created art for Tonnies’s site and for the cover of what turned out to be his final book. Less than two weeks after he died, she started a blog called Post-Mac Blues. For more than a year, she filled it with posts highlighting passages of his writing, reminiscences, links to interviews he gave to podcasters and bloggers, even his Blip.fm profile (which dutifully records that he listened to a song from “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today,” by David Byrne and Brian Eno, at 4:16 p.m. on the last day he lived). Her site is “a map to Mac Tonnies,” Sobin says. “And a memorial.”
“I only ever knew him over Twitter,” Sarah Cashmore , a graduate student in Toronto, told me. She shared his enthusiasm for design and technology and learned of his death from Twitter contacts. “I was actually devastated,” she says. A few months later, she teamed up with several other members of Tonnies’s Twitter circle to start a second Tonnies-focused blog, Mac-Bots.
This outpouring of digital grief, memorial-making, documentation and self-expression is unusual, maybe unique, for now, because of the kind of person Tonnies was and the kinds of friends he made online. But maybe, his friend Rita King suggests, his story is also a kind of early signal of one way that digital afterlives might play out. And she doesn’t just mean this in an abstract, scholarly way. “I find solace,” she told me, “in going to Mac’s Twitter feed.”
Since his death, a dedicated community of friends and readers has been working to preserve his legacy. Blazingbetta (aka Sarah Multiverse) has started a Mac Tonnies tribute site, and Capn Marrrk has been hard at work archiving Posthuman Blues. I talked to both of them via instant message.
Klint Finley: How did you discover Mac and his work?
Blazingbetta: I met Mac through Twitter. He was a friend of a transhumanist friend of mine, and I noticed he got retweeted a lot. I just started checking out his feed, which often led to his website.
I went ahead and introduced myself to him one day, once I had added myself to be a follower. He added me back and pretty much from that point we were conversing weekly. Our mutual friend told me he was a writer, so I did a bit of digging, and came to know what kind of stuff he wrote about.
Did you ever get to meet him in person?
No, but we had plans to meet. I live in Toronto, Canada, and he kept mentioning through the summer that he was planning to come to Halifax, I think, to shoot a TV series on the paranormal in November, and we were going to try to fit in a visit while he was up here. Unfortunately, he passed away in October.
I never got to meet him either. I really regret that.
I totally regret it, too! He would have loved Toronto, and said often he always wanted to visit. besides that, he seemed like a really fun guy to spend time with!
Can I ask how you came to know him?
It was one of two places, I can’t remember which: either the sTaRe group blog or the Cabal blog aggregator that grew out of sTaRe.
Both our blogs were on Cabal. But I think we may have originally ‘met’ through sTaRe. Either way, around 2003-2004.
Cool. Wow, that’s a long time…! I wasn’t that familiar with paranormal/ufo stuff when I first met him, I visited his site mostly because he had such an eye for design… but then I got to know what kind of stuff he researched, and then I was impressed by how level-headed he was about the whole thing.
Do you have a particular favorite post his or link that he found?
I could hardly pick a favourite… I love his photography, he had a great eye for beauty, for details… I like his really old science fiction cover art, and of course his obsession for women in tubes… I love his architecture and design posts, oh my god his whole site was amazing… One that I guess stands out was that we had a thing going for a while with the triceracopter, we both couldn’t believe how awesome it was, and laughed about it for weeks, so that might be my favourite.
He’d come up with these scenarios that the triceracopter was good for. He had me in stitches all the time.
So what made you decide to start a tribute site?
A couple reasons, I guess. In the first place, I guess I wanted to preserve the sense of community that had developed as a result of his death. You see, I had met many people through Twitter just as a result of sharing condolences and updating people on what we knew of the situation (no one really knew what had happened, and it was kinda crazy the first week or two) I had seen these people on Twitter through mac’s retweets, but I began to seriously talk to them only after his passing.
It struck me that so many of these people that I had met were creative or artistic in some way.
So on the one hand, I thought that creating a site just for fan art would be a fun way to commemorate the special person he was.
When I suggested that, people picked up on it right away, and i thought, well if people like the idea and want to remember this special time, maybe we could even put the art into print for ourselves to have a lasting piece I guess I was thinking that a site like this would also help with the grieving process.
Also, Mac’s lasting impact seemed, for most people, to be his sense of joy and imagination… he just seemed to inspire people.
So I thought, when his final book comes out, let’s all be imaginative with him. I knew once I had the book in my hands, I would be illustrating to it, and I thought others would have fun doing that, too. I guess that’s how it REALLY started in my head… just a way to have fun with our last message from mac…and once I got thinking about it, i realized it might be healing for people, too.
You’re planning on compiling material there into a book?
It’s a possibility, and I make that clear in my first or second post there. The idea is not to create something to make money off of, it is more to just take the images/words and create a commemorative picture book or something. It’s pretty easy to get things in print nowadays. I guess it’s still only an idea, because its hard to say what the site will become, if anything. If it becomes a place where people do indeed post illustrations, photography, poetry, and other kinds of design like I first envisioned, then I think that would work really well as a big coffee-table book. If it turns out that people just want to share links to other sites and cool books that Mac would’ve liked, then that doesn’t translate so well. But whatever, we’ll take it as it goes.
So you’re taking a kind of hands off approach in terms of how it develops?
I guess so. I don’t really see myself as a blog owner here, just a facilitator. I like to facilitate great ideas. And this, I think, is a great idea. But it’s not up to me. I can’t force people to create; they have to do that out of their own hearts.
I personally would love to have a big book of images of creativity inspired by Mac… doesn’t that sound awesome?!
It does sound awesome. I’d also like to maybe do something with audio. I played a Halloween show not long after he died and used some sample of his voice as a tribute. But I’d like to do something more.
Aw, that sounds amazing. See, I would love to have something like that on the site, but it doesn’t translate well into a coffee table book.
Well, maybe if enough people contribute we could have a CD that could be a companion to the book or be packaged with it or whatever.
That would be so awesome. I would do it.
See, this is what I love. Collaborating and trying to think creatively. That’s what Mac was ALL about.
I really like the alien with a Mac Tonnies button that’s been posted there.
Isn’t that awesome?! Its kind of an ongoing joke around twitter lately. Lately, as in the last number of months.
What do you think it is about Mac and his work that people find so alluring?
A couple things. First, he was incredibly optimistic, even in the face of ignorance and dismissal that he would have encountered all the time. He was a trooper, and encouraged others to be.
Second, he was a fresh breath of reasonability. He took a “problem” or issue that has been around for decades and tried to cut through the mysticism and secrecy, whatever, and tried to get down to points that we could not only use, but that might help people or just be fun to know.
I think we are starving for this kind of a direct approach, in our day in age, and Mac provided it, without any hint of arrogance.
Lastly, and most of all, probably, his legacy is lasting because he was full of joy and wonderment and his unbounded enthusiasm about what our world and universe had to offer us was truly contagious. and lasting.
Have you read The Cryptoterrestrials yet?
I’ll be honest. I have not read The Cryptoterrestrials yet. In the first place, it is not available on Canadian sites yet, and his publisher suggested to me that I wait a bit for it to come out on The Book Depository website, which offers free worldwide shipping
In the second place, I am still gearing myself up to read it. I have barely been able to visit his site, Posthuman Blues, without becoming emotional, and just last night was the first time since his passing that I could bring myself to watch a video of him and hear his voice.
To receive his last message is honestly going to be one of the harder things I’ll ever have to do.
Sounds weird to feel this way about an internet friend, but he seriously broke down any kind of barriers with his outgoing personality and that smile
I understand. When I read that it was out I felt sad all over again. I haven’t read it yet either.
Totally. It brings back every bit of the loss. Because a conversation goes two-ways. That’s just how we function. So to only be able to be part of half of that seems wrong, even scary. But Mac’s friends are pushing through, you know? And being unbelievably open and honest about how they’re feeling. I admire them all.
Left: Mac Tonnies. Right: Cap’n Marrrk
Klint Finley: How did you meet Mac?
Cap’n Marrrrk says: I first met Mac through Bsti Natosi’s Chapel Perilous, which I went seeking after reading R.A.W.’s Prometheus Rising…but there was no relation between Bsti’s site and R.A.W. I stuck around anyway.
And this goes way back in Internet years before 2000.
And you guys met in person as well right?
Yeah we met twice…
Mac started PostHuman Blues in 2003, but he was posting at Chapel Perilous before then or at least commenting there.
Then after following him for a few years he told me he was coming to Saint Louis, which was great because he only lived a state away. He was the first person from the Internet, that I had met in person. He came to town with his girlfriend, who was a local, and we had a brief lunch at a Thai Pizza Place.
The first visit was very brief, only lunch. Then the second one, was dinner at the same Thai place, then we went to a performance of choreographed by his girlfriend.
You’ve been working with his parents on archiving his online work. How’s that coming along? Will it be hosted in the same place or somewhere else?
So, when it was discovered he died the first think I thought of, as did many, “What will happen to PHB and Mactonnies.com?” No one had any answers, so I just grabbed everything. The story is, Mac had a recurring charge on his credit card, but no one really knew what it was attached to. His parents picked up the charge, and I don’t think they’ll let it lapse, but maybe if they know his work is safe, we can save them some money.
As far as hosting it goes, Doctor Menlo offered up some space. But just last week, I bought some hosting and I’m going to host my own site there. But they’ve given me 150 gigs. So I can host it at my space.
Hosting is dirt cheap these days.
What I discussed with his parents was to leave it all on line, and let people take from it what they want or need in a fair use basis. I don’t think Mac would have wanted to lock down his writing. And I’m not really worried about plagerism. His works and ideas are very selective.
There’s been an amazing community of people spring up around Mac since his death. I was just talking to Blazingbetta about the tribute site she started. What do you think it is about Mac and his work that was affected people so much?
Mac was (I don’t like saying “was”) earnest in his desire to stay neutral, and had a curiosity which was infective. He also didn’t take himself too seriously, and had a very dry sense of humor about himself.
Mac was also very vulnerable. And in me, I felt protective and extreme sympathy towards what I saw as his difficulty in living in Kansas City. Because he was way to smart, and way to weird for that town.
As you can see, Mac had a wide range of interests. So he had an ability to draw people in. And through Macs passing I’ve met several people with whom I’m very sympatico.
I was just catching up on tweets and learned, via Captain Marrrk, that Mac Tonnies has passed away. I’m in shock. This is just so sad:
Nick just called to tell me that our friend and colleague Mac Tonnies was found in his apartment this (Thursday) afternoon, apparently dead of natural causes. There was no evidence of foul play or suicide according to a close friend.
It is hard to find the right words to describe my feelings at this moment.
The last time we talked was just after his appearance on Coast To Coast on September 28th. He asked if I thought he had done a good job. I said he hit one over the fence. Tentatively, I asked if he would consider collaborating on a fiction project, and he liked the idea. Now, I don’t really know what to do or say.
The manuscript of Mac’s last book was apparently complete and ready to be delivered to the publisher.
Nick will have his feelings and more details to follow, but Mac’s family have been informed, and we wanted to get the news out to people who either knew Mac, or were inspired by his original and highly intelligent contributions to the study of UFOs and other anomalies, as well as many aspects of leading-edge science and technology.
Just an indescribable loss. In the next day or so, perhaps I’ll have more to say.