Technology Takes Grieving Online
> 4/28/2006 8:55:38 AM

We have spent a fair amount of time discussing the unexpected negative issues involved with social networking sites like or But as yesterday's NYT reports there are also unexpected benefits to these webpages. In their piece the paper examines the way that social networking sites often serve as impromptu memorials for teens and young adults who pass away unexpectedly. In much the same way a crime scene or car crash site can be transformed into a memorial adorned with flowers and notes, Myspace, Facebook or Xanga pages often serve as a place for those who knew the deceased to leave messages and share stories. In this communal sharing of grief and remembrance is born the beginnings of healing.

The story opens with a father, who after loosing his daughter decides to sign onto her MySpace page to help spread the news of her passing:

Only hours after she died in an automobile accident near Valdosta, Ga., early on the morning of Feb. 27, her father, John Walker, logged onto her MySpace page with the intention of alerting her many friends to the news. To his surprise, there were already 20 to 30 comments on the page lamenting his daughter's death. Eight weeks later, the comments are still coming.

It is impossible to get any realistic estimate on the number of social networking site users who have died, but with literally hundreds of millions of profiles on the web, the numbers must be significant. Obviously, not all families choose to utilize their son or daughter's online connections in the mourning process, but for those who do, these websites have opened up many new avenues. As the story mentions, sometimes staying in touch with friends and acquaintences can be cathartic. Often times a teen's social circle is much larger than parents realize, especially on sites like MySpace where friends can be anywhere in the world. By exploring their child's pages, parents can learn about and connect with a person that they may have only known in a narrow context.

To some it may seem a morbid pursuit to explore these personal areas of a life that ended too soon, but this is just one of the ways that technology is allowing us to connect to one another. When a father like John Walker logs onto his departed daughter's Myspace page and find that she had listed her heroes as "my family" and that hundreds of people have already left messages expressing their regard and their regret, it must come as some comfort and solace during what is the toughest experience a parent will ever face.

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