Friday, April 3, 2015

Death Comes to Facebook

     As a Generation Xer, I have adapted to many of the current technologies.  Still, I remember the first time I sent an email (1992), buying my first computer while in college (my one and only Mac) and signing up for MySpace and Facebook.  I have a Twitter account that I don’t really use because I have frequently been misunderstood through texts.  I believe that Twitter would allow me the opportunity at times to be misunderstood on a larger scale.  Lately, I have even distanced myself from Facebook.
     While I am amazed and pleased for the most part with technology and how it has led to increased connectivity with those at a physical distance, there are some trends that I find disturbing.  For instance in a 13-month period from December 2013-January 2015, I was notified of the death of three relatives through announcements and comments on Facebook. 
     The first death, that of my stepmother, I saw myself after logging into Facebook.  My best friend from childhood posted a message remembering my stepmother that included RIP.  I didn’t have much contact with my stepmother.  I always thought she was a wonderful person and I was sorry to hear of her passing.  I am estranged from my father so I was not bothered as much in this instance.  Still it was an odd feeling.
     The second death was that of my paternal grandmother (my father’s mother).  I was working at the office when I received a text from my older brother.  Apparently several of my cousins had posted pictures and announced her passing on Facebook and my brother saw it.  No one in the family made any effort to contact us (my mom, my brothers or me).  I ended up calling my mother and notifying her of my grandmother’s death.  Although I didn’t fully realize it until later, this method of notification was very disturbing to me.
     The third death came earlier this year when one of two maternal aunts (my Mom’s sister) passed away unexpectedly.  It happened on a Saturday and I had not logged into Facebook at all that day.  I was having dinner with a friend and her family and when I left their house around 9:45 pm, I noticed I had received a text from my younger brother.  The text told me that he saw on Facebook that our aunt had died earlier in the day.  This time I was stunned.  Again, no one had bothered to contact me.  I texted my older brother early the next morning and then we spoke on the phone.  He did not know that our aunt had passed away either until my text.  After the conversation with my older brother, I left several voice mail messages for my mother.  She called me back later in the day and when asked why she hadn’t bothered to contact my brothers or me about my aunt’s death, she replied that she just assumed we would find out through Facebook and since she didn’t have any information about funeral arrangements she had planned to call when she had more information.
     At this point, I was completely overwhelmed.  Since when it is acceptable for family members to be notified of a loved one’s death through Facebook?  To me it is almost incomprehensible to allow someone to find out a loved one had passed through this medium.  I was just stunned by the lack of consideration.  My mother doesn’t have a Facebook account so she really doesn’t have any understanding of how Facebook works. 
     The cumulative weight of these deaths hit me hard and in my opinion was worsened by my feelings about how I was notified.  Our Internet connectedness seems to have led to a callousness regarding actual real time contact.  This is quite worrisome to me.  I am the first to admit that I have Facebook friends that I do not talk too.  Many of these are family members who I rarely see and I am friends with them on Facebook so I can find out about family news.  It is a way of monitoring news without having to take an active role unless I want to.  Still, as I watched family members interacting with each other in grief over these deaths I wondered why things like death couldn’t be worked out between family members offline rather than in a public forum like Facebook.  Although distant family members were able to express their support to the immediate family members, there was also infighting on Facebook between the immediate family members.  Again, this was disturbing to me.
     I do not think that I am a technophobe by any stretch of the imagination.  However, I do not wish to find out about the deaths of family members through Facebook.  Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, since January I have noticed that I have sharply decreased the amount of time I spend on Facebook.  Some weeks I will not visit Facebook at all.  I think that classical conditioning may be partly to blame.  In some way, Facebook has become connected to negativity and loss and I find myself with little desire to sign in.  Maybe some people are not or would not be disturbed by death notifications via Facebook.  All I know is that I am old enough to be revolted by the practice.  That is The View From Here.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

I Am Home (March 23, 2015)

            I returned to South Florida in January after being gone for about five-and-a-half years.  Yesterday, one of my best friends asked me (yet again) why I moved back to such an effed-up state.  Ah, Florida…where the current governor is a climate-change denier, the prison system is rife with corruption and scandal and parts of Miami Beach are flooding regularly with high tide.  Just this week, a little boy who is the same age as my oldest nephew was killed by a family member.  Both of his parents have criminal records and DCF was called multiple times with abuse reports, but of course now it is too late.
            When she asked me why I returned to Florida, it did make me pause for a moment.  When I am being objective, I understand completely that this is indeed an effed-up state.  But the truth is that Florida is the only place that feels like home.  For me, Florida seems to be that ex-girlfriend that I just cannot get over.  We have “broken up” twice before in 1996 and in 2009, so this is the storied third time around.  If I am being truly honest I have to admit that all of the craziness and all of the paradoxes in Florida somehow fit me.  I fit here.
            Another truth is that I feel an urgency of mission.  Before too many years have passed, almost certainly in my lifetime, this spot where I am sitting will be under water.  Climate change and melting glaciers have precipitated tremendous change already.  This week is the 100th anniversary of the founding of Miami Beach.  In yesterday’s Miami Herald, along with celebratory articles about the week-long activities that will be taking place, there was an article that asked if Miami Beach will become a second Venice (Italy, not Florida).  For Miami Beach is an illusion, a man-made beach filled with sand that was dredged out of the sea and the sea is ever fighting to reclaim its rightful place.  Miami Beach was manufactured in the truest sense of the word -- made by man.  But I digress…
            Why am I here?  I am in South Florida because I understand that South Florida is living on borrowed time and I want to be able to enjoy the time that is left.  I am here on a mission to become involved in and to serve my communities – the HIV/AIDS community, the LGBTQ community, the South Florida community, the Florida community.  These are my people and I came back to serve them.  I can’t change Florida, but I can give back to my community.  This community that helped to make me the adult that I am today.
            For despite my cringing whenever another crazy story about Florida attracts national attention or at other times when Florida makes headlines for all the wrong reasons, this is my community.  This is where I belong.  This is where I have a voice and can be heard.  I can make a difference.  I can use my talents and skill to help my local HIV/AIDS community as a proxy for the entire HIV/AIDS community and I can help my local Pride Center as a proxy for the entire LGBTQ community and so contribute to my city, Broward County, the South Florida region and the state of Florida.  I am needed.  My spirit matters, my energy matters, my heart matters, my mind matters, my love matters, my light matters…I matter.  And so as March 2015 is speeding to a close, that is The View From Here.