Social media adds an entirely new dimension to the mourning process. Facebook is a great social utility, but how does its utility change after a profile-owning friend passes away?
Earlier in this series, we looked at both the good and the bad sides of using Facebook as a digital platform for mourning. I spoke about my friend Bubba, who died in a car fire a few years ago, and how his Facebook wall is still alive — especially on his would-be birthday. However, it’s slowly starting to fill up with digital litter (“I want you to join us on schoolFeed!”) and, even though Facebook seems like they’re in for the long haul, I wonder how long this social gravestone will last.
And now, let’s bring this series to a close, shall we?
My friend Bubba is dead, but his Facebook profile is (somewhat) living. His memories are digital and accessible, and so are the memories of your deceased Facebook friends. At any time, you can visit their page, reflect on their friendship, reminisce via old photos, and leave a message on his or her wall so that others know you’ve been thinking about your deceased friend.
Not long after Bubba’s death, I found myself perusing his Facebook profile and reading all of his most recent status updates. I grew a little sad that he and I had grown apart in recent years. We’ve both always been big into technology — we hopped on the whole “blogging” train together, just one month apart, back in ’01 — and I began to wonder how he’d feel knowing that his Facebook page had become the epicenter of his mourning.
I have a feeling he wouldn’t mind. After all, when I saw him for the very last time with our group of hometown friends crowded around a giant restaurant table as we prepped for a New Year’s Eve celebration, he periodically kept regressing to his new-ish iPhone to post Facebook updates and to text others who were actually at the table with us.
“Bubba!” I remember scolding him, “Get off of that thing and get into real life!”
And two months later, he was dead.
O MAGNUM MYSTERIUM
I leave you with this anxiety-inducing-but-very-necessary thought: every human being who is currently alive on this planet will someday be dead.
We don’t yet necessarily know what kind of technologies people will use when their mourn our passing, but we do know that some type of technology will help to facilitate it — whether it’s Facebook or whatever happens to come next.
But for now, you’re alive. Say it out loud: you are alive. Right now, no matter what tomorrow holds, you are alive. And how? Who knows. It’s a brilliant and temporary mystery. We are a brilliant and temporary mystery — and we’re documenting every step of that mystery on Facebook, both now and after death.
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Last reviewed: 17 Oct 2012