Mourning in cyberspace

Anyone who's lost a friend in recent years has probably experienced an odd, increasingly common ritual.


Those deceased who have a Facebook presence will be inundated with wall posts and groups created in honor of their memory.


If you're not in contact with the family, said group page is one of the more reliable ways to find out about memorial service dates.


Another common feeling experienced by the bereaved arises when the obvious becomes clear — Facebook is a public forum, and personal testimonials of grief can often ring resoundingly impersonal because of this.


Again, anyone who's been through this has probably looked over so-and-so's memorial Facebook group and asked themselves and their close friends, ""How did they know so-and-so?"" or ""He didn't even like her.  She was so cruel to him — why is she pretending to be sad?""


Experience has taught me that it's better to believe that everybody posting grief-filled sentiments is ultimately experiencing something real and expressing that realness sincerely on Facebook. But there's no denying that there's something strange about literally writing to the deceased, or rather writing to the cyberspace shadow that represents the deceased.


On the one hand, it's cathartic, and an unprecedented mechanism for coping, as no other generation has had such social networking Web sites. But it seems to offend and provoke more often than unite and console, and that's part of what makes Facebook addictive in general.


There is the question in my mind if these posts on a deceased person's wall are real attempts to either connect with the dead or their families, to release frustration or if it simply is an extension of their daily addiction to everything Facebook-related.


These addictions are widespread, as was demonstrated during the latter half of an evening at a friend's house. Several others and I withdrew from the larger group and sat in semicircle, all feeling buzzed and confessional. A girl to my left started us off, saying how she would spend hours prowling Facebook, looking through thousands of party photos of people she'd never partied with. Others said they would chat with anyone who came online — grasping at even the most obscure connections with these people out of sheer boredom.


On this occasion, I was the de facto leader of the group, able to proudly claim my recovery as an addict and giving insight into life after 90 days off of Facebook.


What makes Facebook tricky is its nature ­— it's like an extension of identity, a projection of an inner or desired self that's accessible and clear where it may not be in real life. Often the self that's being projected isn't so much the self that exists, but rather the self that's desired. I find these self-identifiers, pimped to everyone in cyberspace, to be weird and superficial.


Good or not, in death, these descriptors remain profile-bound, long after the person's gone. My position was unique because the friend that I lost had a Facebook, but I never got around to being his cyberspace ""friend."" So in a sense, it's the only accessible piece of him that's left — the only thing that's qualified by him as an extension of who he was. It was created by him to personally reflect some representation of self — and it's inaccessible to me.


Is it a good thing that social networking sites now offer many of us the last link we get to feel connected with those we've lost?


In one breath I want to say no, it's not a good thing. But I did send my friend a Facebook message, long after he was gone.



— James Carpenter is a senior in English and Linguistics. He can be reached at

letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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