Mourning In The Internet Age

Relationships--whether physical or in the virtual world--are the fabric of life, and one inevitable fact in life and relationships is death. So it is natural that as the Internet and social media become more ingrained in people's lives and identities, death and mourning will follow accordingly. We're so early in the evolution of the Internet that death is not something we intuitively associate with the Web, nor is it something we completely understand. But one thing is clear: we all will eventually embrace its presence and impact.

For the living, social media can play a massive role in the mourning process that follows death. It can enable more efficient communications with our immediate and extended personal networks. For example, a blog or e-mail group could be set up to communicate key details and updates to family members, friends, colleagues and distant contacts, either at home or across the globe.

The Web also can serve as an important platform for expressing grief and emotion, as well as a tribute to the deceased. In reference to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, Warren St. John recently wrote in The New York Times that "personal Web pages have suddenly changed from lighthearted daily dairies about bands or last night's parties into online shrines where grief is shared in real time."

Of course, the Internet has been encroaching on death and the mourning process since the advent of the earliest online communities, such as USENET and proprietary discussion boards within Prodigy and AOL. Mourning also is evident on patient and wellness support communities like WebMD We're also seeing mourning occur on more personal interactive platforms, like personal blogs and uploaded home videos on YouTube. In a society that often treats its pets like humans, we also see pet mourning extend online, as with the tribute to Sam, the world's ugliest dog And virtual gathering spots like MySpace are spawning a new breed of directories and obituary sites for the deceased.

I don't mean to sound morbid, but it will be interesting to see how the Internet continues to shape death and mourning as we know it. 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 estate cases. I'm sure search-engine indexing will be called into question. We're in uncharted waters, and this is an inevitable trend we all must think about.

What do you think?

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