Well, it happened again…I wished someone a Happy Birthday on Facebook and then discovered they had passed away last year. This is what happens when you have an impossible number of Facebook friends, most of whom you don’t know personally.
Some people would say this is an example of how social media blunts the human experience. I say, it’s nothing new. Mass media already did that, and has been doing it ever since the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was the first conflict of that nature that came into people’s living rooms with Walter Cronkite. A few decades later, we were calling the first Gulf War the First Nintendo War. By that time, the desktop computer was virtually commonplace. By the second Gulf War, a home without a computer was as unusual as a home without a telephone.
My chronology may not be perfect but the upshot is, we can’t blame social media for things that actually began with mass media. And while the human experience as a whole may be blunted, that doesn’t mean we’ve become worse, somehow. In fact, the human experience has to be blunted for us to function––we can’t feel every tragedy, every disaster keenly or we couldn’t stop crying long enough to get out of bed in the morning. Or maybe ever. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. If anything, it means we have to think, not just feel bad.
Anyway, thinking or not, I have committed a birthday faux pas. And as usual, I feel awful about it. When the person’s loved ones saw that, they probably wanted to go upside my head. Because that’s how it is when you’re on the sharp end of a disaster, whether it’s something of epic proportions or the personal loss of a beloved friend or relative. Your life has changed forever, and yet the world goes on like nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Like, WTF? The stock exchange opens and closes. The sun rises and sets and rises again. People go to work, go home, go grocery shopping, go online, tweet, check Facebook––and they can’t even take a few extra minutes to find out if someone’s alive or dead? Seriously, WTF?
I could come up with some bullsh!t about how a person is still alive in the memory of those who loved her or him. Yeah, it’s true but I don’t have any business saying that about someone I never actually met in person. There’s no good way to spin this kind of mistake and it would be weaselly even to try.
What might help is getting a notice that someone has passed away when it happens. Granted, it’s not exactly a priority for families and loved ones––”Oh, damn, Charlie’s dead––better update his Facebook status.” And then what do you put in the ‘About’ section––”Currently Works At: A Better Place”? “Personal Information: It’s complicated”?
I’m sorry. I’m not really being flip. It’s just that I spent all last year whistling past the graveyard and I’ll be doing that till I can’t whistle any more. But what I need to remember––what we all need to remember, I guess––is, everybody leaves behind people who care about them. Their feelings are important. However we speak of someone who has passed, good or bad, affects them directly.
Me, I’ll be trying harder not to add insult to injury. I doubt I’ll always succeed but I can live with that.