Erika Doss’s work on memorialisation is an interesting foray into how western societies consider death. We are used to seeing memorials offline, from crosses at the sides of roads through to war memorials, and everything in between. We even see memorialisation happening online. But do we carry the human values of our offline existence online? Do our values look the same online as they do offline? And can we solve some of our society’s problems in dealing with death through the integration of memorials in technological spaces?
If we are, as Doss says, a “death-denying society” – one in which we’ve managed to ensure people die in locations we are ready to accept it occurs (66% of people die in hospitals, hospices or the like), then our obsession with social media might give us an opportunity to forge a better relationship with the topic of death.
Some cultures celebrate death as any other rite of passage. But in our Western culture, we ‘other’ death. It’s a taboo subject.
At CHI2011, a whole session was dedicated to the topic of death and bereavement and a few researchers are making headway into this interesting topic. However, I am left thinking that our work needs to look at opportunities in considering societal issues with taboo subjects using the social media spaces our society is already embracing rather than creating new sites and tools that people are ready to ‘other’ (distance themselves, or create a distinction between themselves and that place or those people) just as they do nursing homes and hospices.
So while Facebook continues to have problems with managing the fact that its user base will die – really die – we all have to address what we want to have happen with our social media accounts when we fall off the twig. The first place to consider how we want to have our social media lives finish up or continue, is to recognise how we feel about the people in our current friends lists on social media sites still being there when they physically pass on. Most people I know have at least one deceased person in their Facebook friends list. Nobody unfriends them. They just sit there. Living alongside all the other vibrant people in your stream, yet not. Typically, if it makes you uncomfortable to see faces of people you know are no longer physically operating their own account, then you’re unlikely to want that to happen to you. But at the same time, it seems harsh to unfriend or even just silence that person’s stream.
Do you have people in your Facebook stream you know are now deceased, and how do you manage it?