Monday, April 4, 2011
Death and Social Media
But celebrity deaths, like their lives are not a good measure of reality. How are we, the regular folks, supposed to deal with the death of a friend or loved one and social media?
I will give you three examples to think about. The first is a joke I made at Elizabeth Taylor's expense. Upon learning of her death, a few weeks ago, I Tweeted and Facebooked this joke; Elizabeth Taylor dies, announces her engagement to Ernest Hemingway. Funny, I thought, but it created a bit of a buzz on Facebook. One of my good friends, a huge Liz Taylor fan took a bit of an offense to my joke. Seems it was too soon. I was being disrespectful to the dead. Fair enough, I conceded. My joke, I felt, had little to do with Elizabeth Taylor the person and more to do with Elizabeth Taylor the tabloid celebrity. If I offended anyone, well that was not my intention. I was looking for giggles. You can't win them all. The lesson, I guess, is that there is a joke free buffer around a celebrity's death... the amount of time this buffer lasts, remains a mystery. Maybe Gilbert Gottfried knows...???
My second example was my first encounter with death and social media. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine, whose name I won't mention, committed suicide. I found out of his death via Facebook. The details of his death, which like his name, I will not mention, were not shared on Facebook, thankfully. The news of his death, however, spread quickly. His Facebook Wall became a cyber-memorial. Friends from all over left messages of love and sympathy. His account still exists, every now and then someone writes on his Wall still. Is this healthy? This unfortunate fella was not a dear friend of mine, but he was a friend, I was saddened, but not devastated by the news of his death. But what of his closer friends and relatives? Is it healthy to have a constant reminder of their dead loved one only a few clicks away?
My third example was the inspiration for this post. I lost my dear friend Andre on Saturday night. He finally lost the battle with his wonky heart. Andre was the bravest guy I have ever met. His love for life was something we should all aspire to. I'll miss him. That said, this is not an obituary piece. I'd hate to be burdened with that job... I haven't the words. Anyway, back on topic. I found out about Andre's death on Sunday morning. I had slept in, it was probably 10am before I was up and about and checking emails. It being so late in the morning, news of Andre's death had already gone viral. There was nothing I could do to stop the news, I couldn't tell the universe to quiet down in order that Andre's loved one's had the time to process this horrible news. So instead, I added my own laments. As someone whom sorts themselves out via the written word, it helped. As to whether I did a disservice to Andre's legacy, by joining the ever-growing viral bemoan, I don't know? I believe in my heart that Andre would want his friends and family to sort their grief out however they can. He was a avid social media user, he'd have joined the mob (some of us held out hope that he would. It was that close to April 1st).
So, should there be rules for social media and death? Would the rules be different according to celebrity, cause of death, or how close a person was to the person who had passed away? Is it always bad form to crack jokes about the newly deceased? And what of the profiles of these dead people? Are they interactive memorials, pixelated grave sites, a place web surfers can go to remember times past? Or should the profiles of dead people be deleted? Is the chance of bumping into the profile of a dead friend, loved one, or family member potentially too distressing? Does it depend on the feelings of the living? Surly the dead have no worries about whether their Twitter or Facebook profiles live on past their death. Heck, think of it as a digital legacy, a pixelated image of a life that was.
Maybe this post is nothing more than a blogger dealing with their own misgivings about death. I dunno? What I do know is that social media has a way of making you confront death instantaneously and rehash death whenever one might stumble upon the thumbnail, or profile of a dead person. Is this healthy? Was it better the old way, where if you weren't in close contact with a deceased person, or their loved ones, it could take a long time before learning of their death? Again, I dunno? I will probably never know. We each grieve and deal with the metaphysical reality of death differently.
God speed Andre and I am sorry for the gratuitous joke Mrs Taylor. How about the two of you raise the spirits of my unnamed buddy in the afterlife? I hope the three of you enjoy the view. Be excellent to each other. We miss you.