life & death on the internet

[think kit. day two.] CHICAGO — A friend of mine died last year. He lost his battle with leukemia a few days after his 25th birthday. We weren’t close — casual friends, at best — but I’m still struggling to find the proper place for the confusion and sadness I feel about his death. I know there’s no way to compartmentalize my memories of him, which swim to the surface of my mind at unexpected times.

I smile when I’m on a bike ride and I think of Chris. I’m happy when he’s present in one of those many waves of nostalgia I encounter when spending time with college friends.

There’s only one place Chris’s name comes up and elicits a negative reaction from me: Facebook.

In the last year, Facebook has relentlessly reminded me Chris is gone. It must have shown me at least a dozen ads that said “Chris Alonzi likes Lumosity.” Every time, it made me so angry.

At first, I tried to remain open-minded. Maybe it takes a while for Facebook to adjust these things after someone dies, I thought.

I was wrong. Facebook never stopped suggesting I like things because Chris liked them, too, and the more time that passed since his death, the more frustrated I became. To me, Facebook was using my dead friend as a tool, a means of influencing me for its own selfish purposes.

It happened again today, because it’s Chris’s birthday. I took a screen shot of the notification, for some reason wanting proof of Facebook’s insensitivity.

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 11.59.52 PMI don’t know why this time was different — perhaps because I cringe at the thought of clicking Facebook ads, but notifications are no big deal — but I followed the birthday alert to his Timeline. I spent a few minutes scrolling through the feed.

Several people wished him a happy birthday, told him they missed him, said they hope he’s “having a blast up there.” I scrolled past the dozens of birthday messages, and what I saw made me rethink my disgust with Facebook.

Since Chris died, people have often posted about him, whether it’s a simple “I miss you” or a longer story about something that reminded them about Chris that day. There are photos. There are jokes. It’s a wonderful ongoing tribute to a really great guy.

I still hate that Facebook has used Chris in “Suggested Pages” or whatever the hell they’re promoting, but I’m happy a bit of Chris lives on Facebook. That’s not something I would have said yesterday.

The emotions and ethics remain complicated. There are dozens (hundreds?) of articles out there about online privacy after death, but today, I’m opting for the overly simple view of things: The only thing that matters right now, on Chris’s birthday, is that the many people he affected have a place to come together and celebrate him.

[think kit. dec. 2 prompt. What did you change your mind about this year? Was it a big deal – the way you feel about an issue? Or something small – maybe you learned to like Brussels sprouts? What was the moment or series of moments that changed how you felt? How did your friends or family react? Have you uttered the phrase, “I’ll never change my mind!” since then?]


One thought on “life & death on the internet

  1. I’ve had similar thoughts about my brother (Chris, too) and his Facebook page. Its a comfort at times to be able to share memories, dreams, wishes, and thoughts with others who miss him as much as I do. Regardless of our geographical location, it’s like we’re all gathered in a bar, reminiscing about the man we all knew and loved. Though it can be a jolting reminder, ultimately it becomes a scrapbook of epic proportions. Excellent thoughts on what it all means.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s