Death and Social Media

This week I have learned about 6 deaths via social media. Six. 3 of them “personal” – that is one person I knew and 2 parents of friends and the other 3 being “cause celeb” – Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall and a famous gallery owner here in Los Angeles David Weidman.

There was always this phrase “they happen in 3’s” – which is somewhat morose. But now I feel like they happen in 3’s ALL the time.

I haven’t visited in a while but early on in the days of the web – BS (Before social) – there was a website called celebrity deathwatch. I believe it’s now called “the deathlist” – which is even worse.

I also saw a bit on the news about a man who has introduced legislation around parents and loved ones gaining access to the social media accounts of their dearly departed. A law that will allow you to access your dead son’s page. Really? Is this what it’s come to?

I have been thinking about this for years — how we would start feeling like there were so many deaths…all the time. And yes there are always deaths…war, disease, elderly etc..

But there are two things about death today that are different. the first is we all have these people that we now feel a shared connection to due to the proliferation of media. It’s really only in the past 80 years that people have become “famous” — radio, television, movies, the internet — all devices that didn’t exist and therefore fewer people were well known.  Secondly it is so in your face on social. It’s like you need to be prepared for the worst news when you log on – that the world will be pouring out their sad sad hearts in 140 characters or less. As thought there were some short eulogy contest happening.

Remember when someone would die – BS (before social) – and the TV channels would just play the same footage over and over. Just for a day. And it was rarely 3 and 4 at a time. Just one. And then once that coverage was over – it was over. Gone. With social the mourning and the grieving lasts for days. Forever. And in some morbid way the entire public is participating. When someone used to pass away – it wasn’t as though everyone could go over their house and rifle through boxes of their photos….but that’s precisely what I did this week twice. When I heard the news I went to instagram, to twitter…

In the case of my old friend his family tried to shut down his page. But then were forced to open it back up due to the flood of emails and phone calls they were receiving.

Yesterday my entire feed. The whole thing for about 30 posts – all Robin Williams. I know that he touched the world. I hold so many memories attached to him – he was one of my mom’s faorite performers, I remember her taking me to see Garp – a grown up movie and it was a milestone for me. I owned and wore quite frequently a pair of Rainbow Suspenders.

But it was overwhelming. Maybe it’s just me…as I sit here and blog and try to tell you that I’m a somewhat private person. In fact this is probably the most personal “opinion” post I’ve ever written. There are days where I’m just not strong enough to face the Facebook.  To face the news of death over and over and over. And it’s going to happen more and more….as the people that played parents on all the shows I so loved in the 70s start to pass…or even some of the people that played their kids. There’s been deaths this year of people I have met, sat at a dinner table with, shook hands with, some of my friends that  that were affected were not just fans but actual friends of these performers.

It’s just gotten me thinking a lot this week about how we as a society are changing how people deal with death. It’s like facebook is the largest open casket wake on the planet. But I don’t know if I can take going to a wake 3x a week. Can you?