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Monday, June 18, 2012
Facebook generation mourn in a very public way
Grief is something that everyone deals with in a very distinct way.
The passing of anyone – whether they be close or simply an acquaintance can be a deeply moving one; where often sharing one’s pain is essential to the healing process.
The shock of never seeing them again, or simply the thudding reminder of the fragility of life can be one which pulls the proverbial carpet from under your feet.
What’s more, you can be moved to tears by news of someone breathing their last having never met or even seen them in the flesh before.
Take the outpouring of grief around the death of Princess Diana, for example when a nation united to, if not all wail at the gates of her London home, then at least feel sad for her passing and jolly sorry for those she left behind.
Yet the way we, as a society, mourn death appears to be fast evolving.
Diana’s death in 1997 may well have been a turning point.
Because instead of quietly dealing with our individual grief and for the most part avoiding conversation about the deceased, today we are hurtling in the opposite direction; yelling from the rooftops our sorrow in what almost appears to be a competitive game of ‘who’s upset most’.
Of course, the internet is perfectly designed for this game.
It was only just taking off when Diana died – but it didn’t stop millions signing online books of condolence to her.
Web forums often rely almost entirely on the ‘I’m the biggest fan/nerd/obsessive/stalker’ types who frequent their sites to build the all-important community which ends up being an essential place to dip your toe into for knowledge on whatever topic or individual it specialises in.
It’s at the point you decide you’re going to strip off and dive head-first in and stay a while; competing with those who live there, where things take on a more sporting edge.
Attention-seeking, after all, comes in many different guises and it’s often easy to over-look those who lurk behind their keyboards but then seek to dominate by shouting first and loudest in the world of the web.
But now it seems there are more of this type of person than we previously imagined.
Because if anyone dies or is even injured, there appears to be a mad dash to the internet to be the first to set up the official online place of mourning or vigil.
Facebook groups spring up with a haste which more often than not beats any official confirmation from the police as to the identity of those involved in tragedies.
And there’s an audience of thousands can quickly develop.
A bizarre sight for a bizarre site; hordes massing to shout out ‘I cared the most’ as loudly and as frequently as possible. Or even to simply feel that they HAVE to share a view and a comment on the person in question. As if ONLY by expressing this opinion in the glare of the online world, can anyone appreciate you cared.
In fact, it seems now a fundamental part of the someone’s passing, that you must first head to Facebook to ‘like’ a page set up to mourn them.
‘RIP Joe Bloggs – we all loved ya’ it will say, before several hundred messages from those who knew and indeed didn’t know him.
“I never met ya but I know you woz cool”, they’ll reflect. There must be thousands of people who do nothing but frequent these types of sites – feeding on this raw emotion.
It’s an odd part of the internet and social networking sites, that even in death, the desire to create some online real estate and build up an audience remains as compelling as ever.
In the past when doom-laden teenagers spent a couple of particularly miserable hours selecting the music they wanted for their funeral, today they are probably designing the website for their ‘RIP’ page; probably pushing the boat out too by integrating it with a Pinterest account and Twitter too…
Death by social media indeed.
Of course, there is plenty to be said about talking and sharing feelings when someone dies. As a society we had become anxious about discussing it and uneasy knowing how to tackle it.
At least with Facebook it’s all out there and you can discuss or simply express a view point easily and without getting into a face-to-face conversation. It’s probably ensuring a whole generation don’t suffer from guilt at the way they handled things.
But it also sails perilously close to making someone’s death feel more like a platform for others to shout loudly and make s name for themselves, rather than simply remembering the poor person no longer with us.
You don’t have to express grief on Facebook to be moved by someone’s death. You don’t have to write ‘RIP Joe Bloggs’ on Twitter and anything else you subscribe to; you just have to look into your heart and realise they meant something to you or if you didn’t know them, just assume the world can appreciate you won’t be happy to hear they are dead, but that you don’t need to actually tell anyone that.
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