Death in the Age of Technology

July 23, 2018

‘You are receiving this text message because you were in his contacts list on his phone and may not have been contacted by other means’.

And so I heard of the passing of a work colleague from a work project I had consulted on just over two years ago. It told me that he had lost his battle with cancer. It reminded me of his lovely, young family, who he had now left behind.  And the details of the funeral. I hadn’t seen him since we worked together besides from on the socials. I certainly hadn’t known he had been so seriously ill. I was shocked and saddened. So young to have been taken and such a happy person.  A generous person with humour and verve. Yet I am grateful to have been told.

Death has a habit of coming out of the blue.  Technology can assist the news of it to come totally out of left of field.  I had previously learned of a suicide of a friend through a post on Facebook. Simply a photo and only a RIP in the comments. That had totally shaken me. It was surreal to see the words on the page.  To see his photo, smiling away in happier times. But it was the easiest way to say it, for the person whose heart was breaking from shock. And so the domino effect hit us all, staring up from our feed.

Then there are the times on Twitter when you see a post from a relative, who has taken over the account to let followers know someone has passed on.  Sometimes you know they were sick because they were either advocates for their disease or because they were speaking about their illness and how it was taking them.  Then it gets announced and I suppose someone deletes the account. I am not sure. Does it matter?

This is one way that death is shared in this day and age. It just is.  Sometimes you don’t hear anything at all but you know something’s up because people go quiet. But the message ends up getting through.

I remember when voicemail on mobile phones became a thing and a dear friend of our family had been taken by a heart attack.  His humour and his rambling voice taken away forever. But I would ring his phone just after it happened to hear him that last time. Is that strange? Then either the phone was turned off or ran out of battery and that voice was no more.

Once it was all just old home movies and photographs.  Now it is a life remembered across networks, wider friendship groups and people you’ve never heard them mention.

Like life, death is shared with everyone.  It’s not just people either. It’s a loss of a beloved pet whom you’ve seen thousands of pictures of on instagram only to hear that ‘they didn’t make it’ or ‘he told me that it was time to go’.  Cats. Dogs. Rabbits. Furry and feathered members of the family no longer with us.

But maybe as a group, on these social platforms, there is solace. Comment after comment acknowledging the pain someone is feeling. Words of sorrow and love, coupled with emojis of stars or angels or hearts.  People reaching out to others to remind them they are part of something bigger. Humanity at its best in a world where our worst is on show. Love free flowing and hugs across the wi-fi. It doesn’t matter. Our human foibles and our fragility on show as our grief pours out and those who follow us extend their care in our moment of vulnerability.

This, my friends, is not a bad thing in my opinion.

It just is, this thing of death in our technology.  Because that technology links us and creates strange new bonds between people, some we have never even met in person.

While we may be questioning our sense around how much we photograph our food and our selves, I see the beautiful things when we reach out to others. And it not only in death.  It’s in crisis, in uncertainty, where we find friends in the outer reaches of the world.

This compassion rises us up above the trolling behaviours and redeems us.  We are there because we are interested in another person, whether they are sharing their travel pics, cute photos of the kids or images of their gorgeous pets.  It warms my soul to know people who are busy, who are dealing with their own stuff, can extend their love to others because these moments stay with people. We need these moments and it doesn’t matter how we get them, so long as we do.

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