Facebook’s virtual headstones
The birthday reminder is one of my favorite Facebook features. No more relying on my faulty brain to remember friends’ and family’s birthdays. I like posting a picture and birthday wishes on people’s walls. If I miss someone, it’s usually because I wasn’t online that day or just didn’t have the time. So the other day when I went to wish my friend, Dondi Martin, happy birthday I was shocked to read greetings from her other friends wishing her a happy birthday in heaven. Some said RIP.
Last year, the terrible scourge that is cancer stole Dondi away and I had no idea.
My heart ached for the loss of such a special person. I’d gone to school with her. Whoever said women were the “weaker sex” obviously had never met Dondi. She was tough. She was kick ass. She’d battled and defeated demons in her life. She was the kind of person you’d want to have on your side because she’d have your back no matter what. And she was a hardcore, silver ‘n’ black bleeding Oakland Raider fan and we’d virtually fist-bumped in the past when our team gave us something to cheer about.
How could I not know she’d passed? How did I not notice? Where was I? I felt guilty watching the posts of others who had mourned her passing and celebrated her birthday in remembrance while I sat at my computer, clueless. But then again, this sadly wasn’t the first time I’d learned of someone’s passing by visiting his or her Facebook page. That’s how I learned that my best friend in high school, Bill Dunn, passed away. There’s something jarring about landing on someone’s page and seeing RIP written all over it. It’s quick. It’s in print. And it’s final.
Part of the reason this happens is that Facebook doesn’t show members all of their friends’ status updates. When you have hundreds of Facebook friends, it would be chaos to see every time a friend posted a status update, video, photo or share. The algorithm Facebook uses factors profile views, likes, wall posts, comments and other interactions to determine just whose updates you see. It’s not that hard for someone to fall off the algorithm’s radar screen. If someone is inactive for a time, his or her status updates will disappear from your news feed.
Also, if you’d like to reach more people, you can pay Facebook to promote a status. Why allow you access to everyone of your friends when they can profit off of it?
Still, I’m not cursing Facebook for losing touch with these friends. After all, if it wasn’t for Facebook, chances are slim that I would have reconnected with all the people I have. Plus, there are many other people I’ve never met in real life but enjoy interacting with online. I enjoy their successes, offer my condolences when they lose someone special, laugh at their jokes and revel in the pride they feel for their children when their kids make them proud.
But it’s not lost on me that one day my Facebook friends are going to log on and it will be my wall with RIPs on it. And while Facebook is and will continue to be a thriving social community, it will and does function as a virtual cemetery. No reason to walk through an actual cemetery with flowers. Here, my family’s descendents will be able to see photos of me and my family and friends. They’ll see my newspaper columns, iPinion columns and by seeing my status updates and YouTube videos have a clearer understanding of who I was better than any genealogical search of public documents can give them.
The Internet brings us together and, in a way, it also gives us something man has sought for generations and that’s immortality. When I look at my deceased friends’ sites I see that they lived, loved, debated, cried and laughed. They had failures and successes. They traveled and boy, did they take a lot of pictures of their food.
This virtual cemetery of silicon and servers leaves a legacy for everyone. We were here. We lived. People liked us and loved us. Some may have despised us. But that’s okay because we lived and made people feel something.
Why do people love Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media networks? Because it allows us all to tell our stories. It’s the autobiography we write every day. And though we will all eventually pass from this life, who we were will live on.
This one’s for Dondi.