The person who was my best friend in elementary school, up through fifth grade when I moved, died a few days ago. We were friends back before Facebook, so we lost track pretty much immediately after I moved — eleven year-olds are not really good at the whole letter-writing thing, and guys just don’t call other guys to talk. That’s weird to us. Which means I’m able to process this fairly quickly and efficiently, as far as grief goes, and along the way I’m noticing some very odd things.
The oddest is the Facebook memorial thing. I’d gotten back in touch with this former friend via Facebook, same as a lot of people my age have done — “Oh, holy shit, it’s that kid that used to make me eat sand at recess every day. We should totally be Facebook friends!“
(Full disclosure: I mostly was the one making people eat sand. Also, is it just me or does the smaller kid look like he really doesn’t want to go wherever they’re walking?)
So I was able to go to this friend’s Facebook page when I got word of his death. It seemed like a good place to get the details, at least on what was going on in his life in the days immediately prior. And I did find some relevant information.
I also found pages and pages (as far as one can measure such things on a Facebook wall) of memorial posts. Lots of friends and family and supporters and so on leaving their personal notes. Which, okay, is a thing that most literate societies do in one way or another, I guess. We have funeral guest books, after all.
But I’m a little weirded out by the idea of writing our thoughts and wishes to the deceased. On his Facebook page. In the usual writing-on-a-Facebook-wall format, addressed explicitly to the person whose page it is and speaking as if expecting a reply. There’s this eerie feeling of people waiting for a reply, like some William Gibson-esque uploaded consciousness is going to start writing back.
It could be that I’m just behind the times. Addressing the dead is not, after all, an uncommon custom, even in things like the funeral oration (or the scathing words as you piss on the grave, depending on your relationship with the deceased). It just feels a little strange and unsettling to see it done in the medium of instant response.
I guess I’ll start worrying when he writes back.