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Death, Facebook and Cognitive Dissonance

By paddypatel in Internet
Wed Oct 13, 2010 at 11:54:16 AM EST
Tags: death, facebook (all tags)

In the last few days a friend of mine passed away - of natural causes, but shockingly suddenly and prematurely. I am devastated and grieving - full of remorse for not stopping for a proper chat the last time I saw her, full of shame for not having kept in touch more diligently over the last couple of years.

We exchanged the occasional comment on Facebook, laughed at each others drunken photos and were prompted to remember each others' birthdays with helpful reminders from Facebook. In fact, having her so close by in cyberspace probably diminished the motivation to make contact in person - why make the effort of setting up an appointment, leaving the house, turning up to wait for someone and keep a conversation going when you can "poke" them and send a quick "Hi Howya doing?" message, sit back and turn your attention to other things, all without leaving the comfort of the sofa?

But now she has gone. The window of opportunity to go out for a drink together has closed. She won't be coming to my birthday party. I can't text her and apologise for not keeping in closer touch. She's gone.

Like so many others, I posted a message on her Facebook wall. The illusion of an active profile is seductive - the message is sent, I have told my friend what she meant to me and assured her that she will be missed. The act of posting a message is a familiar communications medium, you write a message, the recipient reads it and responds.

There's just one problem with this scenario. The term "communications medium" holds an unintentional irony. In this case, a medium would be needed to convey the message and any response. She isn't going to see my - or anyone else's - post telling her that she was a great friend and how bereft we feel. She isn't going to be logging into Facebook ever again. The mourners are talking to ourselves, to each other. We cannot talk to her, because she cannot listen.

So, why do I feel the tiniest shred of comfort for having written the message? Is it the illusion of communication; allowing me to cling to the hope that if she continues to exist somewhere, she is aware of the void she has left behind her; that she appreciates how much she was loved when she was among us? Or do I feel the warmth of inclusion, having added my voice to the hypnotic chant of love and loss that is swelling on this particular Wall? Or is the illusion more shallow; that simply by sending a message has triggered the assumption that it will be received, and therefore my friend must still be here?

Her pictures, her profile, her recent activity - which comes to an abrupt halt after Wednesday - are still there - in stark juxtaposition to the "R.I.P" messages on her Wall. There is no softening of the edges of loss, no pushing this to the back of my mind and continuing with my day. Each time I look at my laptop, there is another message, another confrontation with her now-permanent absence.

She is gone, but her profile is still there. And her profile reminds me that she is gone.

Cognitive Dissonance
Facebook has enabled the news to spread quickly, allowed us to publicly declare our loss and grief; provided us with instant access to memories as we examine tagged photos of our departed friend or re-read the comments she has made and the conversations we have had. Facebook will no doubt make the funeral arrangements easier to communicate and perhaps eventually will host a memorial profile page. And that page will remain, perhaps forever.

The notion of the memorial page in perpetuity disturbs me - for surely the healthy process for acceptance of loss and diminishing of grief requires gradual disengagement from the emotional investiture in the deceased? Does having the memorial page on a "Friends" list therefore result in an obligation to look at it regularly? How regularly? Would the removal of the deceased from your "Friends" list constitute a betrayal, a public rejection of your association now that the other party is gone? Might others view this as insensitive?

And yet....at the moment I am clinging to all the scraps and remnants of my friend's existence that I can find. If the profile page is memorialised, I will keep it in my Friends list....at least for a while. Who knows how I will feel in three years time?

Our rituals of grief have developed over centuries - social networking has been an invention of the past few years. How do we reconcile our ancient traditions with the brash technology of today?


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Death, Facebook and Cognitive Dissonance | 28 comments (19 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
this happened to me a couple of years ago (3.00 / 10) (#2)
by JuanDimensional on Mon Oct 11, 2010 at 03:49:29 PM EST

I had a friend that I met somehow through IRC and then IM. We met and I gave her a tour of my work, I went over to her house, met her family and fixed her computer. I was always playfully hitting on her and she always playfully declined.

One day another friend called and said she passed away. I my deceased friend email and an IM that she will never see or read and no one else will either. On occasion when I use IM, she shows up on my buddy list as being 'offline'. I predict this will be a new euphemism for being dead.

Only temporarily offline (none / 0) (#25)
by Pentashagon on Fri Oct 22, 2010 at 04:01:03 PM EST

if she got cryogenically preserved.

They should add some new facebook statuses.  "In a freezer", "Just my head in a freezer", etc.

[ Parent ]

Start Up Op: Social Media Ghostbusters (none / 0) (#28)
by CheeseburgerBrown on Sat Apr 09, 2011 at 03:04:03 PM EST

Have the digital ghosts of your dearly departed erased the world's memory for a one-time low low price.

SCIFI STORYTELLING: Free & Addictive, Freshened Weekly
[ Parent ]
I see Facebook and Death (3.00 / 2) (#4)
by nostalgiphile on Mon Oct 11, 2010 at 09:25:07 PM EST

but no cognitive dissonance part. Finish your story, looks interesting.

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
Facebooks Of Death? (2.66 / 3) (#9)
by Harry B Otch on Tue Oct 12, 2010 at 11:45:27 AM EST

Sounds like it could be a great title for a very, very bad documentary on the subject.

The GOP elites consider us cattle to be whipped to serve them. The Democratic elites consider us sheep, their flock to be tended. Either way, we end up on the same plate.
[ Parent ]

heh facebook memorials (none / 1) (#12)
by blackbart on Wed Oct 13, 2010 at 12:24:27 AM EST

I liked www.mydeathspace.com more. its now a bit different with forums and such, looks like they're branching out.

"I use this dupe for modbombing and impersonating a highly paid government worker"
- army of phred
[ Parent ]

Or the latest season of a rebooted BBC series (none / 1) (#13)
by Scrymarch on Wed Oct 13, 2010 at 01:48:15 AM EST

Doctor Who And The Facebooks Of Death.

Whoooh-ah-ooo ....

[ Parent ]

More likely (1.70 / 10) (#10)
by Ruston Rustov on Tue Oct 12, 2010 at 01:05:25 PM EST

the dude posing as a ho got tired of stringing you along

I had had incurable open sores all over my feet for sixteen years. The doctors were powerless to do anything about it. I told my psychiatrist that they were psychosomatic Stigmata - the Stigmata are the wounds Jesus suffered when he was nailed to the cross. Three days later all my sores were gone. -- Michael Crawford
Maybe tomorrow. -- Michael Crawford
As soon as she has her first period, fuck your daughter. -- localroger

tldr (1.66 / 12) (#11)
by I Did It All For The Horse Cock on Tue Oct 12, 2010 at 06:14:18 PM EST

  \ \        ^.^._______  This comment brought to you by the penis-nosed fox!
    / /    \ \
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did she die of aneurism due to fb overdose?$ (1.66 / 6) (#15)
by mirko on Wed Oct 13, 2010 at 08:48:47 AM EST

Finally I managed to make the decision that I would work on it. - MDC
we had to huddle together - trane
Death is hard, facebook or not (2.75 / 4) (#18)
by trixx on Wed Oct 13, 2010 at 12:41:38 PM EST

What you describe is nothing new to facebook and has been happening for ages. Go to any funeral and you'll find people looking at a dead body and saying (silently or out loud) "goodbye", or apologizing, or saying "I miss you". They know they won't be heard, but doing that is a natural (or cultural?) reaction. You can do it also on facebook, but it's the same behavior

Regarding profiles and pictures: People also kept (and keeps) picture prints, letters, gifts, cards from dead people before facebook. Even after their loved one dies. You look at them from time to time (perhaps less as time goes bye). How different is a facebook profile from that?

What I see here is the same old rituals of grief that we have developed as a cultur, slightly adapted over a new medium.

If it's so hard then why can anybody do it? (none / 1) (#19)
by Ruston Rustov on Thu Oct 14, 2010 at 04:18:19 AM EST

I had had incurable open sores all over my feet for sixteen years. The doctors were powerless to do anything about it. I told my psychiatrist that they were psychosomatic Stigmata - the Stigmata are the wounds Jesus suffered when he was nailed to the cross. Three days later all my sores were gone. -- Michael Crawford
Maybe tomorrow. -- Michael Crawford
As soon as she has her first period, fuck your daughter. -- localroger

[ Parent ]
Kind of related (3.00 / 3) (#20)
by rusty on Thu Oct 14, 2010 at 12:07:43 PM EST

Article in the Atlantic.

Not the real rusty
Kill yourself (1.00 / 6) (#21)
by cockskin horsesuit on Thu Oct 14, 2010 at 10:01:01 PM EST


take your friend (1.08 / 12) (#22)
by buford on Fri Oct 15, 2010 at 05:12:40 AM EST

and shove them up your fucking ass you cunt!

if a man zeros you, he is a spastic with the scroll wheel, and should be pitied.
Poor grammar in your trolling = lame (2.00 / 2) (#27)
by luckbeaweirdo on Thu Dec 02, 2010 at 04:24:41 PM EST

Poor grammar: "take your friend and shove them up your fucking ass you cunt" should be "her", his friend was female.

Ten star trolling though, at that you really are exceptional.

[ Parent ]

Gradual disengagement (3.00 / 2) (#23)
by Corwin06 on Tue Oct 19, 2010 at 06:57:01 AM EST

Will happen when the site closes. Nothing is really forever on the 'Net, just until the last copy of the data is erased.

Memorial pages is a good idea. Facebook Graveyard. Gravebook?

"and you sir, in an argument in a thread with a troll in a story no one is reading in a backwater website, you're a fucking genius
I've been thinking bout that lately (2.50 / 2) (#24)
by Cambria on Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 08:41:51 PM EST

- fb walls filled with memorial messages. But my parents (and many other 'older' people!) still post death messages in the newspaper.. and I think this is just the new way death notices are going...

I can't really relate here, (none / 1) (#26)
by Brogdel on Tue Nov 16, 2010 at 08:20:45 AM EST

as I don't have friends.

Death, Facebook and Cognitive Dissonance | 28 comments (19 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
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