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.  

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