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Memorials in the Age of Blogging

Yesterday's New York Times ran an article titled Rituals of Grief Go Online by Warren St. John. The article is about how the web is changing the rituals of mourning.

The essential change is that due to personal webpages and blogs, people who die are now being mourned much more publicly.

I've seen this happen a few times on LiveJournal a while back. Two bloggers died, and the replies to their final posts became tributes. In one case, a writer committed suicide, and in another case, a soldier was killed in Iraq. In both cases, a public space turned into a place for mourning.

Part of the reason I am fascinated by this is because of my interest in the theme of how we will be remembered, something that shows up in a lot of my stories, such as "Kaddish for the Last Survivor" (Analog, November 2000). Over the centuries, the technologies of memory have vastly improved.

Consider: when a person died, what could he or she leave behind? For the longest time, the only messages we could leave behind were ink on paper. But then photographs allowed us to leave behind our still image, and recordings allowed us to leave behind our voices. (Has anyone reading this ever called up someone who has died and heard their friend's voice on their answering machine message? I'm sure it must feel surreal.) Finally, film and video allowed us to leave behind a moving, talking image.

There's a difference, though, between leaving behind private items such as messages and photographs and leaving behind something public, like a blog. Furthermore, blogs are interactive, allowing anyone with access to the web to post their thoughts and feelings on the death. This has led to pages such as MyDeathSpace.com, on which people with MySpace accounts who died are being acknowledged.

And I keep thinking back to "Paying It Forward" (Analog, September 2003), in which a web surfer visits the webpage of a newly deceased writer and clicks on the link to send him email. Today, just three years after that story was published, that surfer would probably be blogging about the death instead.

Comments

Quote: (Has anyone reading this ever called up someone who has died and heard their friend's voice on their answering machine message? I'm sure it must feel surreal.)

Yes, I did, and yes, it does. I couldn't stop myself from doing it, though.

There is also a glitch in one of my e-mail address books that if I hit the spacebar on the contacts link, it brings up Jack L. Chalker's e-mail addy. I haven't the heart to delete it from my list.

Fascinating topic.
I haven't yet deleted Octavia Butler's address and phone number from my Contacts list. I'm resisting. I did a note, though, with her date of death.
Today, just three years after that story was published, that surfer would probably be blogging about the death instead.

i doubt it. "in addition to," maybe, but not instead of.
Good point. In any event, the blogging would have happened.
This interests me a lot. Last year, my great aunt died. Family is scattered all over the US and Ireland. My web-savvy cousin (her grandson) sponsered a tribute site on the web. He invited everyone to post their memories. Aunt Maisie was well into her 90s, and there are some amazing stories to be told.

I posted my memories. A couple of other people posted brief notes of condolence and one or two memories. Yet, most of the family feels very uncomfortable being so public in their mourning. Even my dad, who is a web-surfer extraordinaire, keeps saying he is going to post something, but always stops before doing so.

There is a whole cultural shift happening in this regard, and it's going to take time for it come fully around. I, for one, will be very happy if we can get some far-flung relatives reminiscing, or reestablishing contact.
Reminds me of the work being done to get audio / video recordings of the stories that WWII vets have to tell.
An older couple down the street recently passed away within weeks of each other. Our kids were over there all of the time, and considered them adopted grandparents. At each funeral, one of their sons played sections of tapes he had made where he interviewed them and just asked for stories that they had to tell. Fascinating, moving stuff.
my godfather's voice is still on his wife's answering machine, even though he died in 2002.

it's odd.
I'm sorry, but when I glanced over this post earlier, what came to mind was Tom Lehrer's "We Will All Go Together When We Go."
Now, that's a little bizarre.

"Kaddish For the Last Survivor" is one of those handful of short stories that is a favorite of mine yet I couldn't remember who the author was.

I can take it off the list now. :)
Thank you. :-)
Among the web sites that durham_rambler and I run are two belonging to people who died last year. In each case, this unleashed a flood of e-mails from people who wanted to go on record as saying how much they would be missed. We set up pages on the sites to record these, and received a number of comments that people had found this helpful, both as a place to leave a message and as a place to see that other people shared what they were feeling.

of course, if anyone felt that this wasn't appropriate, we wouldn't have heard from them, and in each case there were maybe a couple of messages where I felt someone was looking for attention for themselves - but overall the reaction was entirely positive and very moving.
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