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On Cyber Dying

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A few days ago I woke up to turn on my mail and check what had happened while the world turned under my feet and found myself with a rather unusual mail. Or rather, unexpected. It was not that the news was unreal or exceptional, because it was not.
A friend was contacting me to inform me that a common acquaintance had died recently. The mail was brief and to the point; the friend informing me of the event is not used to euphemisms or beating around the bush. It was direct and simply said: “C died on Dec 26th. No more information”.
I replied to the mail in a polite manner, expressing my surprise. C, although a person that I had worked with on and off for several years, was not a friend but was neither simply a name on a payroll. We had had disagreements while at work but also had had good times. I simply expressed my general condolences and kept going through the rest of my inbox.
But later in the day I started thinking about it. I have had deaths that were much closer to me than this: my father, my grandmother. But what was unusual about this death was the nature of it.
C was, to a large extent, a cyber person. We met and chatted on the web. He would send me a mail now and then, I would reply, we would be in contact for three or four days. Then some length of silence would come. And now, the silence is permanent. I realize that I have mails from C in my inbox, his inbox has some from me. For a while now I have joked that the definition of being old is that when your music list is composed of 50% dead people, you are old (excluding classical). So now, do I have to revise my definition? Do you become old when some portion, any portion of your mail addresses, are deceased?
The nature of the news was even more silent than usual. I passed the news to somebody else. He expressed the same condolences but that was the extent. In an incredible instance of coincidence, a few days later I got a mail from a company I work with, requesting me to update some data. I did and then noticed that C’s name was on the list. Did they know he is gone? I doubted it and sent the info back, with an extra note: you can trim your contractors’ list. By one, but trim it.
And the thing that I started to wonder was how this new age of cyber existence brings a new connotation to our mortality. In the past, when you died, people had your letters (if you were so inclined to send them). Famous people have left copious correspondence, most of the times with other famous people. Those letters are rich in content and ideas and are a testament (can one use the term “literal” here?) to the personality of the writer. But now, what happens when a person of literary acumen dies? What happens to her writings? Do they even remain or are they lost after some computer program wipes them away?
Nowadays, when you pass away, did you even exist? Or will you be deleted forever?
Do you now die or are you erased?
C passed away without letting anybody know. I later found out, sadly, that he had a short but intense suffering. He had 40 days of reckoning with pancreatic cancer. And he chose to remain silent. So I now wonder:
What do I do with his mails? Do I press delete? Do I file them? Or what is the proper thing to do?
As with so many other things, our new age changes everything that we do. And it should be no surprise that death, and the way we deal with it, has also been affected.

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  1. fastbackss's Avatar
    I am on another forum where we had a "run" last year and lost 3 people. 2 were active posters even up to the week of their passing.

    I myself had not met any of them, nor did I really interact with them on the forum. I know it was tough for some who interacted with them frequently. Because they are not just "deleted" it is jarring to see posts from them in old threads that are bumped.

    Sidebar, I recently was trying to find a subject matter expert on something. I knew OF him, and some of his online postings in a multitude of forums. I was searching trying to get contact information from him. I decided to search one last thing and was surprised to find his obituary as a link. Without finding that I would have reached out simply because everything else was still up there.
  2. fastbackss's Avatar
    On a 3rd forum I am on - there is a guy who is a bit of a rabble rouser. He is respectful of other's opinions - but his opinions are OUT there. Most firmly disagree with him - and he is passionate and would not back down. People asked for his banning because of it, but the moderators let it go because he was not mean-spirited about it. Come to find out he had "an event" this past weekend and died almost instantaneously. Amazing how people's opinions change quickly, despite never having met him in person.