Death & Social Media

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It was a late lunch today, my morning and early afternoon having been spent at Council offices discussing various work-related items with a colleague. As always these meetings tend to overrun – if ever one questions what the Council Tax pays for, I would be happy to suggest a lack of forethought in organising and implementing strategic and efficient meetings with local businesses.

So a quick bite and a slurp of caffeine at the local coffee house offering was all I had to get me through the afternoon. But it was sitting in this ambience of fake Art Deco and vintage furniture that led to mobile phones being opened and notifications scanned through with a speed that would impress even Daniel Ricciardo.

I just found out through LinkedIn that an associate has passed away.

Unknown to my colleague who quipped this, for me this statement is actually quite loaded. I proceeded to explain and discuss as follows.

When my brother passed in January a couple years back, it was actually and also exactly one month prior to his fortieth birthday. His funeral was delayed a little because the people who deal with these things were overloaded. Of course, early January is prime time for their business. Not to be overly blunt, but the cold weather isn’t good for the elderly and the seasonal festivities isn’t good for the lonely and vulnerable.

So while my brother’s early February funeral happened I was of course dealing with friends and family who were learning of Ben’s passing.

And then on his birthday, I remember ensuring I spent most of the day at work. I intentionally scheduled myself to be busy. But I hadn’t quite taken everything into account. My mobile phone, squeezed into my back pocket and on vibrate.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

Continuously. For the whole day.

It was Facebook sending me notifications. Alas not for me, not entirely. I am not that popular. But it was from people who had woken up that morning, opened their phones and were politely informed that today was Ben’s birthday.

A quick glance at his profile indicated to one and all that not everything was rosey in his world. In fact, he had been cremated only a fortnight prior.

And being the only other Mr White on Facebook (from my family), the messages began. I hate to be crass, but I ended up saving the default response and resorted to copying and pasting. These were people I (mostly) personally didn’t know. Hence why they weren’t informed at the time. And separately of that statement, hence why they didn’t know at the time.

Fast forward a year, and a similar story.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

Again, my brother appears to be more popular than myself. Even in death.

And even this most recent anniversary, his third since signing off, my notifications piled up quicker than I ever experience when I post my usual drivel.

It was this aspect of social media and my colleagues learning of the passing of an acquaintance that led to our brief discussion and recalling of memories.

It wasn’t so long ago that when someone died, a notification was posted in the local newspaper. Called obituaries, they have their own section, mostly published towards the back of the paper before the local sport news, and included heartfelt messages from family to those who may not be aware of those who have passed.

Step into the modern world of digital relationships. Facebook is the new Obituaries column, apparently. Along with LinkedIn and more-than-likely Instagram, it is these services that are notifying of people’s passings more than the traditional ink and paper.

I find it sad that in this time it is a digital connection with a person that informs us of birthdays, marriages, wedding anniversaries, births and deaths.

What happened to the personal connection? Where did it go? The written word, the card of condolence or congratulations?

While technology continues to amaze and impress, let’s not lose sight of what really matters. What really counts and what really makes us all as amazing as we are. The ability to connect with one another, to remember certain dates because we want to and to actually put a pen to a piece of paper and write something.

I’m as guilty as the next person, but having been on the receiving end of it, I can see even more clearly the need to occasionally put my phone and tablet down, to grab a pen and find any-old scraggy bit of paper and to actually write something.

I hope I’m not the only one.

And I’m well aware I’m writing this on my tablet and posting to social media.