This Wired article, “Mourning the Internet Famous,” has an enlightening viewpoint on how the decentralized Internet is changing our grief, using Randy Pausch’s death as a case study. From the article:
At some level, these comments are a bit crazy. It wouldn’t make sense in any other context to write or say what people are writing in the comments sections of blogs across the country. You can’t imagine telling someone about Randy Pausch’s death and them saying to you, “I am real sorry for your loss Jai,” because you are not, in fact, Jai.
But given the searchability of the internet, this behavior isn’t that nuts. It doesn’t actually matter what URL you put your condolences on, it’s all part of Googleverse, so Jai could find it if she wanted to find it.
The mourning also mimics the way that people experience Pausch’s powerful oration. You interacted with Randy through a little box embedded in a webpage. Your headphones piped his voice clear and strong into the center of your brain, almost as if some deep part of your own mind was delivering his nuggets of wisdom. He was talking to you alone, not the hundreds packed into a theater or your family gathered around the television. In response, then, it made sense to get personal and say, directly, “Thanks, Randy. We’ll miss you.”
This mourning splits the difference between the small and generally private funerals of our friends and family and the public spectacles that marked the passings of Stalin, or Elvis, or Princess Di. Millions of people grieved alone in the asynchronous communities of the internet.
I’m a little disappointed at their description of the purpose of death rituals:
Still, at whatever scale and medium chosen, all these death rituals retain their universal purpose. They all provide convincing evidence that though the star may die, the universe continues. Though the Marine is gone, the corps lives on.
But, Wired is hardly a theological journal. The “the marine is gone, the corps lives on” theory of death has little consolation. As if at one’s deathbed one is told, “Have no fear: though you die, take comfort in the fact I’m still alive.” The depth of grief deserves better than this.
Thankfully, the “mob” character of the Internet brings into clear focus that the deceased was, in this world, surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses.” Some known, some unknown but all of them touched, loved and mourning. Perhaps this might point us to know more fully the Church as spiritual communion between the living and the dead, to love more fully to the God who redeems it and to trust more fully that we, too, shall find resurrection.
I don’t want [lab]oratory to devolve into a link blog, but I’m going to pass this one along too. Original material is on its way. Honestly.