Death by social media
A few days ago, I received a strange email from my Dad. It was from his personal email account. It was unexpected. It had no subject line. It was only twelve words long. It was very direct. And it told me he was dead.
Of course receiving it was a shock. You could call it denial, but something told me it might not be genuine. It wasn’t couched in any of the soft words that come when a death is broken and spoken of. Two of the twelve words were ‘April 1st.’ And there was no signature.
I had just been reading about Google Nose and this email struck me as so unreal I figured it must be a hoax. You know, like those emails you receive when accounts get hijacked? “I lost all my credit cards when attacked by bandits in Mexico. Please send me some dollars, now?” A tasteless prank. Dead people can’t send emails.
Yet the bitter truth was my Dad was dead. This was no April Fool, rather someone’s chosen way of letting me know. It felt brutal, confusing, unfeeling, unthinking, impersonal, efficient.
Technological taboo or the new normal?
Why does it seem taboo to share death in this way? We live in a technological world. Many of us share everything in our lives through our phones and laptops. I have found out married friends have split on Facebook when they changed their status to single. Family instagram photos to announce a new baby. I’ve watched some great YouTube proposals. To digital natives this is normal, it’s natural, there is no other way.
My relationship with my father was surprisingly technological. My parents split when I was in my early twenties and I didn’t see him for a dozen years. He remarried and we reconnected slowly, at first via letters then using email before progressing to irregular meetings and phone calls. He was never a big part of my life post divorce and email was our fragile cord. So perhaps it was a fitting medium with which to finally cut it.
“You never ever break that kind of news to someone by social media,” said a friend, firmly putting me straight. Family expressed similar views. Condolences came with protests about inhuman use of technology for personal matters. Often, ironically, from those most addicted to their handsets. Just like me.
“Just be thankful your father didn’t have a Twitter account,” said a relative with a wry smile.
A message from the other side
After the initial shock I realised I’d overlooked the strangest thing about it. I had apparently received an email from the dead.
With a little reply arrow at the top.
Could I send an email back?
A message for the other side
In the bleak early hours, I got to thinking, could this portal still be open? Perhaps this was an opportunity; to send a reply, to say all those things that were unsaid in life, and unsay some of the things that were said.
Maybe technology wasn’t the merciless bringer of bad news. Maybe it was our last chance.
So I wrote an email to my Dad.
And then I pressed send.
I half expected a bounce back, an error, an out of office reply.
But the message went.
And the reply never came.
That’s how it is now.
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Talking Point is our series of short Photo Friday posts. Each week we pick a photo and post a talking point and invite you to join the conversation. Do leave a comment with your thoughts.