Mighty Life List
Apr 22 2014

How Grieving is Shifting in the Face of Technology

Do any of you remember when Twitter was young and John Mayer was one of the first celebrities to sign up? I followed him for the hell of it, and then freaked a little when I realized I’d started to care about him. I know it’s morbid, but one of the first things I thought was that it was going to be weird when he died.

For years, I’ve wondered what it’s going to be like when these thousands of people to whom we’re connected start to age. Not only will the rate of deaths increase, we’ll have so much material to review to keep those memories alive. It feels to me like the first generation of Web natives might be headed toward a grief overload.

I wrote up an essay about it on Medium: Grief Capacity, Mourning in the New Century. Have a look and tell me if you think the idea of grief overload is nutty, or whether it’s something you’ve thought about too.

12 Responses to “How Grieving is Shifting in the Face of Technology”

  • martha Says:

    I thought about it when Cory Monteith died. What will be your last tweet? Facebook update?

  • Lamisa Says:

    I’ve thought about this so much, and I thought I was the only one. Like, one day Oprah Winfrey is going to be dead…and I will likely witness it!?

  • shokufeh Says:

    I think there is a truth to what you are saying. But I also think we figure out ways of coping as circumstances change. More importantly in my mind, is that it’s just not death that bombards us, but also the things that make our lives so rich. And that our ties to one another in this virtual space allow us not only to grieve each other’s loss, but to celebrate the lives lived.

  • Amanda Says:

    I’ve definitely thought about this. The first time was when Heath Ledger died. I found out on Facebook and felt SO sad, even though I didn’t actually “know” him and wasn’t even a big fan. It was my first year of university.

    That same year, a girl who was an acquaintance from high school died. Again, I found out through Facebook and walked to my next class stunned. I felt sad for her, for her family and friends, but I was more sad about the thought of who else would find out about her death via Facebook.

    I kept thinking, ‘I don’t want my friends or family to find out on Facebook that I died!’ More than that, I thought, ‘I don’t want “RIP Amanda” on people’s statuses or in a FB group, etc.’

  • Maggie Mason Says:

    @Lamisa Ugh. That will be like losing a parent. It has oddly never occurred to me that she’s mortal.

    @shokufeh I think the whole point of life is connection, agreed. But I also think technology allows us to connect rather casually.

    @Amanda Exactly. I’ve found out friends and even relatives died via Facebook. It’s offensive, such a gut punch. But you make a good point. I don’t mind the online memorials, it’s more that I don’t want close people to find out that way. We need some sort of list, “FIND these people. Tell them with your voice.” But that may be an archaic impulse that’s in transition. Death is always a surprise. For some, it’s perhaps no easier to hear in person than any other way. I prefer to have an embrace waiting.

  • Sara Says:

    I think about this all the time. As a counselor, I’m particularly interested in how we connect, love, relate, etc. And what impedes or causes those things to break down. There have been a lot of interesting studies about the influence of social media on our brains and relationships. There’s a great Upworthy video that illustrates how social media actually increases loneliness. http://www.upworthy.com/loneliness-illustrated-so-beautifully-you-will-need-to-tell-someone

    I find that idea fascinating-the more “connected” we are the less we’re actually really connecting. We’re not programmed to be in touch with so many people. I find it rather unnerving at times. And I’ve seen so many people be delayed in their grief process because their able to post, and tag, and “interact” with dead loved ones through social media. I’ve already demanded my husband delete all my social media accounts when I go because I think this pseudo living on is weird and unhealthy.

  • Sara Says:

    I feel the need to point out that I am aware of the difference between their and they’re. It’s just been a long day.

  • Cindy Says:

    Three years after my husband has passed and I still get notices on Twitter to follow someone because Chris does or I’ll look over to the right hand side of my facebook and see that Chris has recommended something. People still post on his fb page and I see everyone because we’re “friends”. It is weird. It’s nice to see how much everyone loved Chris, but some times it feels like I’m being haunted by the internet. I’m not sure if this has kept me in mourning longer. I have a new love in my life and I’m moving forward, but the truth is I will always miss Chris. With or with out his internet presence. It never gets easier. If losing someone was easy, that connection with them really meant nothing.

  • Sam Says:

    You should read David’s Redhaired Death which deals extensively with this idea. The idea is how many deaths you “have” in your lifetime.

  • Amy Says:

    Maggie, I know exactly what you mean when you write about startling when meeting 8 year olds. My uncle died three days before my 9th birthday and that event was probably the single most important moment that shaped the person I became. I always think “what will happen in this child’s life this year that will define them?” My daughter is about to turn 8, and I know I’ll struggle a bit in a year when she’s the same age I was when the reality of drug abuse hit me like a truck.

  • Karen Says:

    As a military wife, I think about this a lot. It has happened, of course, that social media has beaten that knock on the door. My husband is leaving on his 4th deployment soon & I have to tell you, it would be the worst thing in the world to find out something had happened to him via FB or twitter.

    (here’s a story Time did in 2012 about it: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/04/22/military-spouse-learns-of-husbands-death-by-facebook/)

  • Leni Says:

    Recently archaeologists and cultural anthropologists have started writing about the culture of contemporary mourning, but particularly the affect that material culture (stuff, basically) can have on all of this – there’s a really lovely book by an professor of material culture studies at University College London on the subject, called ‘The Comfort of Things’. It’s a few years old so doesn’t deal so much with the digital impact, but I think it can explain a lot about how digital culture could feed into this -http://www.amazon.co.uk/Comfort-Things-Daniel-Miller-ebook/dp/B00CJ9FUUA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1399281655&sr=8-1&keywords=the+comfort+of+things