Relationships – whether physical or virtual– are essential components of life, and one inevitable thing in life and relationships is death. So it is natural that the mourning process – not yet intuitively associated by most people with the Web – will increasingly expand online. In fact, the Web can be a powerful component in mourning for a number of reasons:
- More efficient communications to our extended social networks
- A potentially important enabler of expression, such as with remembrance and grief
- An everlasting tribute to the deceased
- A facilitator of mourning when used as a diary
Of course, this has been going on since the advent of online communities like USENET and early proprietary discussion boards, and is especially evident on patient support communities. We increasingly see it with more personal communications platforms, like blogs and uploaded videos. In a society that often treats its pets as equals to humans – with good reason – we also see the mourning process extend online, like with Sam, the world’s ugliest dog, here and here (prepare to weep). And raging virtual gathering spots – like MySpace – are maturing and furthering the Web’s connection to death and mourning (and there now are even directories and remembrance sites for deceased members of MySpace).
It will be interesting to see how we humans continue to embrace social networks and death. I’m sure we’ll see a lot of privacy issues factor in, as personal identities created online must be dealt with when the people who created them die. This will probably become a standard line item in our wills, and in court cases. I’m sure search-engine indexing will be called into question. This is a can of worms and worthy of much further discussion.
The New York Times had a mostly nice story this week on mourning around MySpace; I highly recommend reading it. But in typical NYTimes fashion, the story (irritatingly) positions the phenomenon as a newly discovered trend. NYTimes is the king of non-trend, non-news trend and lifestyle stories:
Just as the Web has changed long-established rituals of romance and socializing, personal Web pages on social networking sites that include MySpace, Xanga.com and Facebook.com are altering the rituals of mourning. Such sites have enrolled millions of users in recent years, especially the young, who use them to expand their personal connections and to tell the wider world about their lives.
As I mentioned above, the Web has been altering the rituals of mourning way before the advent of these new social networks that have popped up in the past year or two. They represent only the latest chapter. But credit is due: this piece did partly inspire this latest post.