Paul Walker, star of the Fast & Furious franchise as well as the dreamboat any 20-something gal remembers from her youth, passed away in a tragic car accident over the weekend. While I didn’t know Paul Walker personally, anytime I hear about somebody dying in a too-young, tragic car accident, all I can think about is how sad it is for all of the people in his life affected by the incident.
And, from the looks of my news feed, I’m not the only one who feels this way…
News flash: Paul Walker is not up in heaven reading your Tweets and status updates. Even when he was alive he probably wasn’t doing that. And, more than likely, his loved ones aren’t sitting on Facebook reading them – they are probably at home planning his services and grieving their asses off. If you really want to pay respects, why don’t you send a note to his family or donate to the charity he was involved in? And if you are really that overcome with grief and need to express yourself, write a blog post or put it in a diary entry. This is the same thing that happened last year when Etta James died. All of the sudden, everyone on my news feed became blues/jazz aficionados, praising Etta and claiming with quite certainty that she was up in heaven singing down on them.
The half-assed social media celebrity mourning is only slightly less offensive than when non-celebrities die. I’ve discovered the death of old friends, classmates and acquaintances via the Facebook news feed more times than I’d like to recall. Posting about the death of somebody on Facebook takes an extremely serious event and trivializes it. There is nothing respectful about a status update: “Ugh – flunked my midterm today. By the way, RIP John Doe!” To me, it feeds into the sick little thing that all humans have in them which is the desire to be the first to break bad news. I’ll admit it: there’s something satisfying about being the first one to tell your friends that somebody died. Even if it’s devastating news, even if it’s not just Paul Walker. You want to be the person that gets to see the reaction of others, which is why if you checked my text messages from Saturday night you’d see about five of them with a screenshot from Paul Walker’s official Twitter, followed by “WTF? RIP.”
I understand that for some people, being able to post on the deceased’s wall on their birthday and say things like, “I miss you,” is the internet equivalent of a gravestone. But there’s something so cheap about it. It’s hard to go to your friend’s cemetery plot and put flowers down and say, “I miss you, man.” It’s not hard to write on somebody’s wall and say the same thing. It’s hard to write a card to a family member and tell them that you’re sorry for their loss, not only is it not hard to write the same thing on their Facebook wall – it’s downright insulting.
In keeping with the theme of Death & Social Media, I’d like to enlighten you all with a company called LivesOn. The goal of the service is to analyze your Tweets to learn about your user behavior, and then Tweet for you after you – ahem – die. According to an article posted on Bloomberg.com earlier this year:
Almost 7,000 people have signed up for LivesOn.org, which promises that ”when your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.” The service analyzes your tweets to learn what you like and how you write. After you die, it can then populate your Twitter feed with things you’re likely to have said.
“If you’re always having a dig at Piers Morgan,” said [Dave] Bedwood, who helped set up the venture, you can do so “from beyond the grave, which I imagine would be very satisfying for everyone.”
Satisfying? Or creepy as hell. I choose the latter.