Technology, digital spaces and the ability to make space and time all but disappear with the endless space that is the internet can and certainly has been the double edged sword of the modern age. For all the arguments for and against the unimaginable technological boom that we’ve experienced in the last few decades, one thing is for certain; it has changed not only our lives, but also our deaths and the deaths of our loved ones.
As we continue to move through an increasingly optimised technological world, whether we like it or not, the way in which we interact with the dead and the way we even think about death itself is bound to change. Not only that, but the process of grieving can be fundamentally changed. But how exactly does access to technology have such a profound impact on the concept of life and death itself?
There was a time, not even so long ago, when all we ever had to remember our loved ones by was a box of photographs and whatever memories we may have been able to keep in our minds through the years ahead. But time, for better or worse, always blurs the edges of what once was, and even the most elephant-like memories out there will struggle to remember their loved ones perfectly decades after their death.
With the invention of home videos and then decades later, social media clips, snapchats, Instagram stories and sound clips recorded on our very phones, our loved ones are never truly gone. A picture may be worth a thousand words, and it may immortalise that person visually, but no photo or portrait can ever capture the entire essence of a human being; the distinct tone of their voice, their nervous tics, their hand gestures and the jokes they made.
But most of us now have years upon years of footage of ourselves stored in countless places, both online and in the house. Even with this simple technology, our loved ones can’t really ever be forgotten. You can choose to watch these memories on anniversaries, birthdays or special occasions and feel as though your loved ones are still a part of your lives, even when they can’t physically be there.
Unfortunately, there is also a sadder side to the concept of what has been coined a ‘virtual graveyard’, especially on social media. About 10,000 Facebook users die every day and it is thought that by 2098, there will be more profiles on the site for people that have died than for people that are living. At first, this may seem like a perfect opportunity. After all, how is this any different to home videos and year’s worth of saved Snapchats?
But imagine getting consistently notified about a loved one’s birthday, or sent throwback posts without warning. It’s a very different experience to reach for those memories when you want them, but having them forced on you can be far more triggering than comforting. For some, it can feel like an endless, prolonged grieving where even if you feel as though you’ve moved on, that unwanted notification can feel like experiencing that death over and over again.
Many have even considered whether social media profiles of departed people are a hindrance to the grieving process, especially since they essentially act as a digital diary for moments you may have shared together.
A Place to Share
Of course, social media has another side. Not one that is necessarily focused on preserving a living shrine to an individual that is gone, but more as a space to reach out, vent, or feel the comforting arms of tens, if not hundreds of people who may be feeling the exact same pain as you.
That’s not to say that amongst those feeling genuine grief and sadness there aren’t those just seeking attention, but for those who perhaps don’t have people close to them to share their pain with, or are not comfortable opening up in person, social media friends or groups can be invaluable in times of loneliness. Not everyone in your life will understand what you are going through, but there very well may be a community of people on Facebook who do.
Similarly, the digital age has offered countless people across the world the opportunity to share their stories and their grief with online counseling services, chat rooms, or even seek solace and advice from other people’s experience in online articles. As much as the digital world forces us to give up a certain level of privacy in order to participate in these communities, the truth is that we’re never really alone if we don’t wish to be. Never before has such an advantage been more necessary than in the last year, when physically turning to people in a time of need might not even physically be possible or legal.
Social media is not the only kind of media available to us to help us process our feelings or keep us company. These days, if someone has felt something, they’ve likely made a podcast about it. And if not, you are certain to find the perfect playlist online that speaks to your mood, or a film that helps you have that cry you’ve needed. Whatever your choice of media consumption, it can be an amazing distraction during a time of grief, especially if seeing other people feel too overwhelming.
And for those struggling to come to terms with how they feel in the first place, media surrounding topics of grief can certainly aid you in your journey of self discovery and healing. For those not able to seek help through therapy or counselling, this could be some sort of alternative, though of course not a suitable replacement.
Digital spaces are and always will be a double edged sword, and for every positive emotion they bring into our lives, they are able to cause just as much drama, upset and miscommunication. And just as that is the case in life, it is also the case in death.
With most people’s lives being lived online these days, our entire history can live on long after we’re gone, creating an everlasting memory, but also a time capsule that may be difficult for those left behind. However, for so many people, an online and digital space can work wonders during times of hardship and technology is the only way they are able to get through their loss.
Whether it’s being able to video call with a friend on the other side of the world, or scroll through some old photos of your loved one on your phone in order to remember them, it cannot be denied that technology will forever affect the way in which we are able to grieve.
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