I had difficulty deciding what to write about for today’s column. It’s kind of been a slow news week, which means there are going to be a million columns about the fact Hillary Clinton took five questions from reporters.
It’s sad when just the fact that a candidate for president took questions is more newsworthy than anything she actually said, but I figured everyone else would have that one covered by now.
Then it hit me. Well, actually, tragedy hit.
While doing show prep on Monday morning, I saw some sad news on Facebook: Two guys I graduated high school with had died over the weekend.
I wasn’t close friends with either of them and hadn’t spoken with them since graduation, as far as I remember. But they were too young and had young kids. One died from a heart problem; the other was found dead in a garage with a friend and, as of this writing, the cause is unknown – no signs of trauma or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Their deaths, although sad and unexpected, aren’t what I want to write about. I want to write about the way in which their deaths were handled by our classmates.
I’m not going to name anyone involved because they aren’t public people, and even though it seems like I’m judging them, I’m not. It’s more an observation of something I’ve noticed that I don’t see as a positive development in human interaction.
One of the guys who died, who I believe was the quarterback of our high school football team, was quite popular. His wife also graduated with us and is on Facebook, and I noticed something that sort of bothered me.
The widow’s “wall” on Facebook was inundated with condolence offerings and pictures of her recently deceased husband from throughout their life together. While that may seem sweet to some of you, it seems weird, and almost inappropriate to me.
Many of the postings, most in fact, were from our classmates who, to the best of my knowledge and recollection, were not particularly close to him either. Like every high school, mine was full of cliques and groups that got along in the hallways but didn’t really intermingle outside of school or after. And although I don’t doubt their shock at his death or the sincerity of their sentiments, I question the method by which they chose to convey it.
It strikes me as horribly impersonal, bordering on inappropriate, to post condolences and remembrances for the world to see, in a place where someone who just lost their spouse won’t be able to avoid them.
I get it: Facebook is now how we as a species communicate, but it seems to me like there should be a line when it comes to tragedy.
Each post struck me as an attempt to, in a way, outdo the others. Many were long, full of memories from years ago, and some were cathartic for the poster. One woman wrote about how her having been bullied by the deceased in high school made her life hell then but helped her deal with adversity later on.
All in all, they struck me as more about the writer than the recipient or the dearly departed.
Maybe I’m stuck in the past, in the era when you called someone, sent a private message or flowers or showed up at a funeral home to express condolences. Maybe that day is done.
But it strikes me as something bad, this interconnection we have now through the Internet. We’ve never been more “connected,” but it seems to have disconnected us in an important way.
We can keep up with people we otherwise would have lost complete touch with, but in many ways that seems to have numbed a part of our humanity. Did my former classmates write paragraph after paragraph to the widow of a man they hadn’t spoken to outside of random reunions because they genuinely felt what they wrote? Or were they externalizing thoughts of their own mortality? Or doing it because they knew they would be seen doing so?
I don’t know the answer, and it’s probably different for each of them. Still, it strikes me that the more connected we become through technology the more disconnected we become from each other.
Writing something on Facebook is literally the least a person can do, outside of nothing. Is that what we’re becoming?
I can’t say for sure, but I can’t imagine someone who just went through the worst day of her life would want to come back to the Internet to see a hundred reminders of that day. Yet those reminders are waiting, each with her tagged, to refresh the awfulness.
Are we losing our humanity, our capacity for empathy and rational thought because we think everyone in the world is watching? Or are we ignoring those most human of traits because we hope they are?