Death is typically a private affair, with those in the US even making a private industry regarding the process of dying. People who are experiencing long and drawn out deaths are often hospitalized or placed into hospice care or into a nursing home. Death is distant for those who are alive, with the dying being handled by professionals. This is the way things have been in modern history in Western society. However, this may be changing. Recently, social media has become more popular than ever, with millions using sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube. This has created public connections in areas that have always been respected as private, such as death and dying.
The surge of social media usage has not escaped those who find themselves in the process of dying. In fact, some of these people have capitalized on this market and have shared their stories and experiences in a non clinical setting. This has allowed a community to develop within the internet of those who can understand and empathize one another’s experiences. Having someone to talk to who is going through the same thing is perhaps easing the way for individuals who find themselves dying.
This phenomenon has also provided a surge in autopathography, or ill people who are writing their autobiographies, including their documentation of illnesses. The openness of these people who are dying is providing physicians and therapists with valuable information regarding their thoughts and feelings during their last days. While people may be reluctant to share their deepest thoughts with medical professionals, they often find it much easier to share with strangers who know what they’re going through. This can assist these professionals in treating the dying in all aspects of their lives, not just the purely physical symptoms.
The use of social media in death is also allowing families and friends more time and ways to grieve. As their loved ones are immortalized with profiles, blogs, pictures, and videos, they can revisit these things at their leisure and take comfort in knowing that they’re always there. Similarly, it provides distance, because while mementos kept in a home are constant visible reminders of what they’ve lost, having the ability to look at social media kept by loved ones after they’ve past requires the effort and the conscious decision to look at it.
However, this publicization of death has come with a drawback in that the dying are focusing more on publishing their experiences. This has raised concerns that they are possibly withdrawing from friends and family, in favor of virtual friends and robbing the family of the chance to say goodbye. While this is certainly a possibility, after all, death is about the living, not the dead, I think it is selfish to deprive people from access to those who understand the intimate details of their illness. If death is about those left behind, then the least we can do is make dying about those who are actually dying.