mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)
mabfan

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.
Tags: personal, science-fiction
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