death 2.0


it’s time to talk about death again.

ok, so i happen to have an exhibition about death and magic coming up soon, but this post was primarily sparked by the experience of a friend and the recent passing of JG Ballard. this friend, whom i happen to know IRL, but only because i first knew him online – through our blogs, friend’s blogs and the early, heady days twitter (where we blogged about having cups of tea, and no-one used tiny.url).

anyway, i had been in email contact with john while he was in new york and not long after he returned and in it he mentioned that his mum was quite ill – she’d fallen whilst he was away and was back in hospital. it was more serious than her previous long-term illness had been.

i didn’t hear anything for a while, figured that everything was going OK, although he was strangely absent from some of the usual online blagging and there were some cryptic ‘take care’ kind of comments flying around on other blogs, but nothing all that clear.

then, last week, in a blog post about bureaucracies and customer service, he slipped in an innocuous line “i had to register a death the other day”…

now, being a maths whiz, i put 2 and 2 together and emailed him. we spoke and i got the full story about his mum’s death. i was shocked and saddened. and, unsurprisingly, i felt quite powerless and that i should have known what happened somehow.

in our discussion about it, we spoke about death and how announcing death within the digital social realm doesn’t have any etiquette yet. it’s easy to celebrate people’s weddings, announce the birth/conception of your first child, birthdays, parties – all other kinds of social rituals and customs – except death. i’m yet to see a facebook tag of people at the funeral. including the dead guy. [blogging about the end of your own terminal illness seems to be ok, but not so that of others’]

announcing the death of your loved ones on your blog, or as a facebook update/tweet is still a bit, well, rank. but how do you notify people who are now friends with you primarily through these means. we’ve all got permission now to be friends with people just in binary form, but how are the more complex or intimate elements of friendship broached?

i thought about emailing the people who i knew, mutual friends, to let them know that doddsy’s mum had died (because he sure as hell didn’t want to) – but then i kind of chickened out. i guess this post will let a couple of people know, so that they can be there as a support, but what of the rest of his friends?

and of course, with that line of questioning came the inevitable, self-centered question of ‘what if i die?’. who will notify all you guys? who is going to set up the ‘lauren is permanently out of the office’ auto-responder on my emails? i have left my mother a list of passwords to some of my accounts, so that, should she be the one who has to do it, she has access to some of that information. but will she even want to do that? in the future, will there be a section on our last will and testament, outlining the online social activity which will need to cease and the accompanying passwords?

just say we’ve all accepted the future of social interaction will include twitter, facebook, blogs, flickr and probably a bunch of other cool/necessary sites, how do we continue to accept the fact that we are humans participating in a social forum, which includes the incredibly anti-social business of dying?

UPDATE: since i wrote this, i’ve seen The Satorialist post that his dad has died recently, and Dan The Man let us know that his granddad died. Times, they are a-changing.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

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