Shiva in the new digital age
When my mother got sick two years ago from cancer, I spent a lot of time utilizing Facebook as a way to raise money for her treatments, by posting information through an online fundraising account and updating information on how she was doing via Facebook. I did this because Facebook was the largest platform that I could think of to reach the largest number of people. Last fall, when she passed away, I felt it was only appropriate to post about it on Facebook since she her friends were following her progress there. That day, I received over 200 Facebook likes and comments. I also got a handful of text messages and calls, but only one person showed up at my house the whole first month I was grieving. Why was this? I realized in that moment that Shiva has dramatically changed in this new digital age. When it comes to death (and other uncomfortable subjects), it is easier to post a comment on Facebook or send a text than it is to go to someone’s house and be with them in person.
People normally do not want to deal with grief in an intimate, raw way. I think this is especially true for Millennials. There are more traditions about what to do and how to handle death and dying for older generations. For us, death is transformed to be mostly our online presence and we experience death less frequently in person. We have become accustomed to experiencing pain, grief, and sadness from afar on a bright screen. We have gotten used to feeling like we’ve helped someone by showing our condolences on Facebook. It brings us less anxiety and takes less energy to comment on a sad status than to even pick up a phone and ask someone if he or she is okay. Even if we are hurting, we can easily say that we are okay on Facebook and have no one question it because they can’t see our body language or hear the tone in our voice.
What is our relationship to death as Millennials? Does social media connect us closer to the grieving process or does it numb us further and separate us even more from ourselves?
One particularly negative thing about grieving through social media is there’s no way to “dislike” something on Facebook. If someone speaks about death on Facebook the only option you have is to “like” the status it or comment on it. But one positive thing about death via social media is that it can be a new a place to honor the dead and dying like an in person Shiva visit would do. One can revisit comments, pictures, and posts anytime they want to be reminded of their loved ones and see lots of support from a far. According to Facebook, there are over one million people every year who die and still have profiles. Can you believe that?! One day there may be more deceased people on Facebook than living people. What would it be like for you to find out that someone died through social media? If no one is there to see how you react, how could you feel supported?