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Grieving not quite the same in digital era
Publication Date : 14-10-2013
For many days recently, a popular radio host in America had over a million of his Twitter followers glued to his updates on his dying mother. Her final days and words, many of them heartbreaking remarks, were relayed to virtual strangers in a manner that social observers saw as the breaking of a major human taboo. Grief, after all, was supposed to be private, or so the majority of us were brought up to believe. The likes of Facebook and Twitter have altered the way people handle sorrow, cope with personal trauma or approach death, but tweeting on one's mother just before she passed away simply took the role of the social media on human's most delicate and complex issue to a whole new level.
The pros include the comfort one needs - no matter how far away it may come from, or how superficial it may look - and the "benefits of sharing". Issues like death may be next to unbearable when one has to cope with them alone, but sharing the pain may enable one to look at them from a different perspective. And the sharing is being made possible on a grand scale thanks to the social media.
What is there to share in life anyway? Of course, we share our joy - a new birth, graduation, wedding or vacation. What's wrong, then, if Facebook "friends" are to tell one another that their parents are having a crucial operation or that they have been diagnosed with something extremely worrying? Isn't that what "sharing" is supposed to be all about? What is the greater good of social media - being a tool for one to broadcast an Alaskan trip, or serving as a channel through which people share pain and offer condolences?
The cons include, of course, the possible loss of precious time if one is too concerned about status updates to pay real attention to the people he or she loves when they need it the most. There's also the possibility of what is shared being mistreated or misinterpreted. Once a message is out there, there is no way to control it. And many people still give privacy the utmost importance after all.
Whatever the cons are, the new generation seems to have a new approach toward the matter of life and death, so to speak. It's not that death and extreme illnesses are being treated "lightly", though. As some social observers put it, they are being treated "differently". The more people know that their "sufferings" are not as unique as they may have thought, the more they adopt new perspectives in coping with them.
"Tweeting" about death is not taking death lightly, the radio host insists. Rather, discussing death will help add meaning to life and encourage people to live in a truly worthwhile manner, he says. While death in the family is debatable as a private or public matter, the man is right to a great extent. Even jokes about death on Twitter carry food for thought, depending on how we look at them. "Ten out of ten people die. You can trust me on that," said one anonymous tweet. We can read the tweet and ask "What's news?", or we can read it and look around with a new perspective.