Lately, you may have noticed there’s been a fair amount of discussion bubbling up about digital death. Facebook has just introduced a new app called Evertalk that provides FB memorial pages. Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article called Death Doesn’t Stop Social Networking, and two weeks ago in The New York Times there was Digital Diary: Talking About Death Online; just to name a few. Given that my finger is always on the end-of-life pulse, it’s all familiar to me. I also recently experienced a friend’s death on Facebook. After dying of breast cancer, family and friends flooded to her husband’s Facebook page to offer words of condolence. And yesterday a new and unexpected digital death experience hit me in the face.
While web searching, I stumbled on a new interface for the White Pages. It allows you to search and find out how many others like you, with your name, are in the U.S. When I searched myself, there were 7 Suzette Sherman’s. I searched various people I knew and then I searched for someone I’ve always wondered about – my best friend from grade school, Musette. I had not seen her since we were 14 years old. Here’s what came up:
Yes, zero Musette Keim’s in the US. I saw the number (or lack thereof) “0,” and time stopped still for me. Musette and I were exactly the same age and were inseparable grade school friends. Due to our friendship, I remember those few years that we were close friends as the most peaceful years of my childhood. Then life took her away from me. Her father’s business took off, and her family moved out into the country. They built a new, bigger house in a more affluent area. That following summer my parents took me to visit her, but we were so young and the distance too far to maintain a friendship. Shortly after that her parents divorced, her father’s business continued to expand and I heard they shipped her off to boarding school in Switzerland. I remember feeling sad for her. Even then I was aware that boarding school is what I consider a legal form of child abandonment.
Years passed and after college I heard word that Musette had Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and was not doing well. That’s the kind of news life tosses you, forcing you to learn a lesson. Mine was that life was indeed not fair. Of all my girlhood playmates, how could it be Musette who’d get a debilitating disease? She was kind, gentle and never engaged in “mean girl” games. Of course, her having MS stuck with me all these years; it was just so painfully unfair.
The shock of her being gone from this earth was one thing to absorb, but to see a “0” seemed terribly wrong. She was not a zero at all! She had been a kind, incredibly wonderful person – especially in those most formative years. Knowing she was gone and seeing that 0 made me cry.
I realized I had suddenly found myself fully in the digital age. The consideration of a possible tombstone located somewhere with her name on it, is just not what happens today. Instead her name comes up on the internet (or lack thereof) with the truth that someone is no more – and it strikes hard. In the past, I would have spent my life wondering about her. Now with the advances of the Internet, there are gains and losses. What we lose is mystery and all the former unknowns we used to wonder a lifetime about. Is this good or bad? Who knows? All I know is, given Musette’s character, all forces should have aligned to allow her to live a life as long as I have. But then, yes I know, life is not fair.
Digital death what it is, I’m simply a person with feelings confronted by our digital highway; and have you noticed the cars are moving really fast at us?