Life’s Guarantees: Death, Facebook


Does mourning in the digital age make a loss any less devastating? That’s the question asked by Newsweek‘s Lisa Miller in the magazine’s March 1st issue. While it may seem trite, ridiculous, and frankly even a little insulting to try to express your pain and grief over a loved one’s passing in 140 characters or less on Twitter, the rise of social networking has also allowed us to grieve as a global community, not just individuals alone in suffering.

So while you might have the spectacle of Michael Jackson‘s demise on one end of the new media spectrum, you also have those Facebook groups dedicated to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre and 9/11. Not to mention the groups that were taken down by Facebook for memorizing Joe Stack, the pilot who burned his house and crashed his plane into an Austin building earlier this week in government protest. (Though that is a whole ‘nother can of worms all together…if Facebook and Twitter are the new global cemeteries, who are the groundsmen to tell us who we can and not grieve for?) Individuals who have passed away can be remembered on Facebook, and there is even a literal “process” one has to fill out for the dedication.

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Writes Miller:

Will our unchurched children be content to memorialize us with a quip on a “wall”? Something is gained, but what is lost in this evolution from corporeal grief (the rending of garments) to grief tagged with a virtual rose?

Not to take her words too literally…but a virtual rose does last longer than a real one, though it doesn’t make quite as good of a metaphor for the frailty and shortness of human life. But that’s the point: we remove ourselves from death with cultural symbols and rituals to avoid confronting our own mortality, and taking it one step further by making the symbolic nature of a rose into a .jpg of a rose online doesn’t lose much in the way of our humanity.

This post originally appeared on Mediaite.


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