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Death in the Time of the Internet

by ROBBY SHERWIN

My large and spread out family communicates a lot like the Walkers on our much loved and now departed series, “Brothers and Sisters.”

In point of fact, we often could not help but feel that the writers had culled their material directly from our own personal stories; the multiple phone conversations, all at once; the tentacle vine-like webs of communication that link us all to each other with lightening–like speed, the wine-fueled family dinners albeit the Walkers drank vintage and we, sadly, tend to lean on chilled box reds as staple.

But new heights, or lows, have been reached with the recent announcement of the passing of one of our sibling-in-law’s parents via Facebook, the arbiter of social form and function.

Granted, my, at times, nearly feral siblings have, in the past, run the gamut of form and behavior but this one pointed out just how far our culture has come to sanctify new and rather out-of-the-box methodologies for interactions.

We all knew that Pops had been failing, that my brother and his wife were in the throes of dealing with their own immediate family sadness and approaching loss.  They live at a distance from the main family unit, but then so do I, we being the two renegades who have slipped the surly bonds of our particularly strong family gravitational pull to survive in what the rest of the clan sometimes perceive as the airless vacuum of the rest of the known world. But I remain umbilically connected to the mainframe and have the phone plans and communication devices to prove it.

So when I had a conversation with the mother-unit the other morning, discussing my upcoming Haj back to the Mecca that is Maryland for us, she mentioned that Pops was doing badly and she was worried about Bob and Valli.  Whereupon I replied:

“He died”

“He did?”

“Yes, this morning as far as the Facebook post from Valli intimates”

“You read this on Facebook???” she replied somewhat incredulously.

The simple fact of the lack of surprise on my part struck a chord and got me to thinking just how radically Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and their ilk have impacted and forever altered our way of life.

“They didn’t call and tell me?” she opined.

So much for intimate interpersonal communication. So much for notes of condolence, flowers, hot dish casseroles, draped mirrors and the donning of black.

Now, as with the outpouring of grief that erupted in an instant worldwide for Steve Jobs’ not unexpected passing, we, too, could experience on a smaller scale the reach and breadth of the internet as we digested the news of this, our own personal family passing. We had our own Steve Jobs to mourn and now our masses could weigh in, instantly, and express their sadness and compassion for all to see and evaluate in the privacy of our own homes.

And with the aid of our iPhones and iPads and Facebook apps we could rush the information out to those that needed to know, now.

I’m not sure how I feel about this but it is what it is and, as with much of the change that has occurred in the last century or so, it will take a little time, a lot of practice, and the opinions of millions of others out there in the dark, for us to formulate and incorporate this new world into our own applications.

Maybe it’s not as cold as it seems at first blush.  Maybe that initial reluctance on my part is simply an age factor; after all, I was the brash, all-knowing kid in college in the 70’s that steadfastly refused to take Fortran classes because I “was never going to use a computer”. Oooops, hoisted with my own petard as Shakespeare would say.

So maybe these little mini-bombshells of social change are the petards of the new generation, the catalysts of change as only the quick-minded, early adapters can envision and we, somewhat older and certainly more jaded must haul ourselves along the path and strive to keep up with these flash-fast apparent nimbi that seemingly threaten our status quo and strive to comprehend that this IS our world now.

Quick.

Brilliant.

Envisioned.

Slightly impersonal at times but vastly more interconnected than that of even our parents and maybe, just maybe, that’s not a bad thing at all.

Robby Sherwin lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Robby Sherwin is a writer/photographer who splits his time between Portland, OR and Key West.  His roaming mind bounces off topics from politics to family.  His past and future musings may be found on pdxwiz.wordpress.com

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