Death in the celebrity age

Despite being from 2005, this article is evermore relevant today, as it starts to feel like we’re mourning all of our favourite stars:

Chances are in 15-20 years, someone famous whose work you enjoyed or whom you admired or who had a huge influence on who you are as a person will die each day…and probably even more than one a day. And that’s just you…many other famous people will have died that day who mean something to other people. Will we all just be in a constant state of mourning? Will the NY Times national obituary section swell to 30 pages a day? As members of the human species, we’re used to dealing with the death of people we “know” in amounts in the low hundreds over the course of a lifetime. With higher life expectancies and the increased number of people known to each of us (particularly in the hypernetworked part of the world), how are we going to handle it when several thousand people we know die over the course of our lifetime?

What happens to my late husband’s digital life now he’s gone?

Caroline Twigg

Excerpt from this article:

Six months along this single-track pathway, I’m repeatedly aware I have to rebuild and reshape my life – a life I can’t remember distinct from Iain. If your partner dies, a lot of admin also comes your way. And, these days, people die a digital death alongside their physical one, which creates a whole new world of admin that didn’t pass the radar of grieving widows 50 years ago. Those 20th-century widows would have had a box of love letters and a few hard copy photos; I have Facebook messages, professional videos on YouTube, personal videos on my iPhone, email histories, recorded Skype chats, WhatsApp conversations, text messages and digital photos – photos galore.

When someone dies, Facebook tends to “memorialise” their account – freeze them so they can be viewed, but providing no access to past messages. I read that and panicked: I didn’t want that to happen, so grabbed my laptop and logged in urgently as Iain. Once in though, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do – it didn’t feel right reading personal messages to and from other people. They weren’t for me. If he’d left a box of letters, would I have read those? People store important letters, but online messages are kept just because we don’t press delete. Should I read his emails? I didn’t. But I read and reread our text message conversations, which lifted me up so high it felt like we were actually chatting. Then when I got to the end and there were no more, it was a bad, long fall from there. So I decided memorialising was OK.

I don’t use the rest of Facebook so much now – I posted a positive few things early on and hadn’t expected so many instantaneous likes and messages saying I was “amazing”. It was too surreal to be told that when you’re barely able to hold a conversation in real life, and it made me feel strange. I’m certainly not going to start covering Facebook with the reality of the new world I have found myself living in since Iain’s death – people don’t go there to see the truth if it’s not pretty.

On Social Media, Everything Happens All the Time

Excerpt from this article:

Chinua Achebe, the celebrated Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart, died at the age of 82 in 2013. But to social media, he only passed away this weekend. People began tweeting condolences (or re-condolences) Sunday night, writing “RIP” and “another one gone” and sharing the New York Times obituary from two years ago.

The re-mourning of Achebe spread far enough online to eventually reach high-profile users like the White House national-security advisor Susan Rice, who chimed in Monday morning with her own tweets…

It wasn’t just Rice who missed the fine print—the “news” duped plenty of people. So what happened? As Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton pointed out, someone likely posted a remembrance of Achebe’s death and recirculated the New York Times obit. Others, seeing the headline and not the timestamp, believed Achebe to have just died, so they fell victim to “reflex sharing” …It wasn’t a hoax, just an Internet-assisted ripple effect.

And that ripple effect happened because social media is, Benton wrote, “unstuck in time,” where old material can be recycled digitally to seem new, where what’s trending no longer means what’s most recent.

…Readers don’t always look at the date and the time of a story, because there’s no association between the story and the time they see it. When in the past, people physically picked up newspapers from their doorsteps at a certain hour during the day (or tuned into TV networks for nightly news), today, the same information is presented to them online not as headlines, but as topics, transformed into key words transformed further into hashtags. The notion of timestamps associated with individual stories can seem, well, outdated.

Mourning in America: A new Internet way of remembering the long-departed

Excerpt from this article:

Twenty-two years after their fathers’ deaths, they have their answer: the Internet. After all, it’s where everyone shares everything these days. It’s the space where so many of us spend so much of our lives. So to welcome in others who have suffered losses like theirs — and to bestow a kind of permanence on loved ones fading fast into the hinterlands of memory — they’ve created their own mourning Web site. In October, they launched the Recollectors, a storytelling site that’s a vehicle for both catharsis and oral history, where children who have lost family members to AIDS can share their tales.