Mourning in an age of internet

15 September 2015

Writing has always been cathartic for me. Normally it’s ranting, cathartic against anger or annoyance, but now, I need it to be cathartic against grief.

We’re in mourning. We’re in mourning on our laptops and in real life: offline, and online. Right now, the line between those two seems blurrier than ever. Tears running down my face; a genuine representation of the [crying] emoji. There are people sitting all over the world who met Michael in person, who shared fantastic experiences with him, who now have the internet to turn to for comfort. I’m one of the lucky ones: I’m in Berlin, along with a bunch of other people who loved him like I did. We met up in person, and hugged, and told stories of all the funny and happy times we had with him.

And when we’re alone, with our laptops for comfort - we look for him online, because that’s where he lived, too. It isn’t like grieving Before Internet, because we online inhabitants who knew him don’t have a physical place to go to to pay our respects. There’s no grave to visit, no house we can leave flowers at (at least, not in person).

So we have chatrooms, we have Skype, we have Facebook, we have Twitter. We can see his unfinished projects on Github, listen to his voice on his Vimeo channel. Watch videos we made for him on Youtube, and see his face on Flickr. His online presence reaches far, further than I had imagined it could.

Who knew online corporate services could bring us such comfort? How ironic, given his dedication to freedom in the digital age. We search for his online nickname, we Google his name. We find sides to him we hadn’t known, and we wish we had asked him more about. It has hints of what I’ve observed online before when celebrities die; the public outpouring of sadness, the shared grief. But this is different: we knew him. We laughed and joked and danced with him - we just aren’t in the same physical place as him, and we won’t be for a long time.

I keep looking at the @mentions of his Twitter handle to convince myself that it’s real, he’s gone, and to draw some kind of comfort from others’ sadness. I’m far from being the only one who is grieving right now, and tweets are coming from all over the world - from Kathmandu to Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile to Cape Town, Reykjavik to Boston, MA. I used to think sharing such private, personal emotion on a public platform was somehow inappropriate, but right now I’m so glad that I can look there and see that I’m not alone, that this is real.

I even keep looking at his actual tweets, hoping that somehow this will be a joke, there’ll be an update, and that, like Nick joked, he’d remind us all to check our sources better before coming to drastic conclusions. He won’t, of course.

I stare at my screen: he changed the colours in my terminal to be black and green, so that I’d look like a “real hacker” when using the command line. We have old emails, hilarious emails. “I looooove long email threads, let’s keep this going”, he says.

We video call each other, puffy eyes and all, and send each other photos. We email on lists. We share photos on a Facebook wall. It all isn’t enough, of course. There’s just one thing we all want to happen, and it’s not going to.

I saw Michael two weeks ago in Buenos Aires, for the first time in a year or so. The year that had passed didn’t seem like a long time when we met; we picked up where we had left off, we went to some of the same places that we had been to together in Buenos Aires three summers ago.

I want so, so much to see him again in a year’s time. It’s going to be a long year.


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