Is it okay to mourn the death of a family member on Facebook?

Published: June 2, 2016
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In today's world, people are more interested in updating their social media regarding a happening than the happening itself. PHOTO: REUTERS

A few days ago, I received the news of the tragic demise of an acquaintance’s father – he had endured a sudden cardiac arrest. I couldn’t possibly imagine how torn and devastated the family must have been upon the untimely departure of the very strength of their household. 

A little while later, I was idly scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed only to come across a shocking post. Minutes after her father’s demise, this acquaintance had updated her status with a generic poem about sorrow captioned ‘I miss you already’ and had used the Facebook emotive tool to express that she is ‘feeling sad’. The poem was accompanied by a picture of a Kohl-smeared eye with a dollop-sized lone teardrop streaming out of it; perhaps one of the first images that would spring up as the result of a Google search titled ‘sorrow’ or ‘sadness’.

Many expressed their condolences in the comments below the photo – apparently, in this day and age, leaving a comment of condolence on Facebook is the equivalent of actually meeting the person and expressing empathy over their loss.

A similar image to that found in the status.

All of us come across posts such as these on a daily basis. Thanks to Facebook’s newly introduced ‘reaction’ options, people can react to them as well, i.e. with a sad emoticon, a happy one, or show whether they ‘love’ it or just ‘like’ it; one wonders whether these options are severely limiting our capacity to react and respond to situations.

What was surprising was not that my acquaintance chose to poetically articulate her sentiments regarding this tragedy or that people offhandedly ‘liked’ or commented on it; I do not mean to be insensitive towards either factor. But the fact that social media has become so dominant in our lives that the act of mourning on a public platform has taken precedence over mourning in reality is almost frightening to think of. The contemporary human race has reached a point where updating how you feel is more important than actually taking a moment to embrace those emotions and to celebrate or mourn an occasion appropriately. Occasions have become trivialised to simple displays on social media.

Is it just me, or is today’s world wildly distracted by trivialities?

Several decades ago, George Orwell’s theory about the threats of a totalitarian government was challenged by Aldous Huxley’s chilling prophecy in ‘Brave New World’ where he claimed that, in the future, people would come to not only accept oppression but to adore and fixate upon the technologies that restrict their capability to think and make informed decisions. His idea stands true in today’s day and age. He claimed that there would be no need to ban books, as Orwell feared, because no one would want to read them anyway. He said that there would be no need to ban information because no one would care much for it any way. Today’s generation including informed members of previous generations are consumed by social media; by banal details of things that do not affect them in any manner whatsoever.

How is that so, you may ask? Well, look around you.

In today’s world, people are more interested in updating their social media regarding a happening than the happening itself. Let alone major occurrences such as demise or a political upheaval, we are distracted by the most unimportant news updates. People care more about whether they have Instagrammed or Snapchatted their plate of food rather than having eaten it. The youngest Kardashian sister, Kylie Jenner’s new lipstick collection is a much more talked about topic than the tension in Pak-US relations or the development of CPEC that aims to boost the GDP of Pakistan by billions in the near future. We have people falling off rooftops in their quest for perfect selfies and we see silent dinner tables that once throbbed with family discussions.

People care more about whether they have Instagrammed or Snapchatted their plate of food rather than eating it.

Today’s generation, in my opinion, is confused and lost in a warp of competitiveness and comparison owing to social media platforms. Yes, there is a positive side to digital networking but the vices seem to rise in victory. This is as much a critique of the way that the rest of the world is using social networking as much as the way that I perceive it. We are all equally hooked, and are slowly becoming desensitised towards true human emotions. We feel lost without our smartphones and tablets, and stubbornly debate upon how easy they have made our lives when our addiction is questioned.

Whatever happened to living in the moment? What happened to savouring and appreciating the simple things in life? What became of experiencing happiness or sorrow as one’s heart desires rather than tempering your emotions and expressing them such that they get maximum attention on social media? What happened to taking out a couple of hours in a day to call your relatives and hear details of their lives that are privy to personal interaction rather than all over your Facebook newsfeed? What happened, dare I ask, to writing letters to loved ones as a true gesture of appreciation and devotion? We often critique this obsession over social media but do we ever look around ourselves, and within, and question what happened to things that truly mattered?

Neil Postman rightly forewarned when he said a generation would come about that would ‘amuse itself to death’, and here we are, doing just that.

Do you think it is okay to mourn the death of a family member on Facebook?

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Eesha Syed

Eesha Syed

The author is a recent graduate from LUMS discovering the world – one burst bubble at a time.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.