More sadness

Dave Pell:

I think about a lot of things before I share online. But here’s one thing I never think about:

The unthinkable.

Daniel Miller didn’t think of that either. So he shared photos on Facebook and Flickr, wrote anecdotes in his blog, and managed his finances using Mint. And then his one year-old daughter died.

And the machine wouldn’t turn off. Every now and then he just wanted to take his mind off his grief and focus on something happier. But he was constantly reminded of his daughter by the sites and tools that were so integrated into his connected life.

Daniel explains what he calls the “infinitely connected triggers of her memory and the dumb machines” in a blog he writes to share experiences related to his family’s loss.

26 thoughts on “More sadness

  1. rutty says:

    Oh my word, how horrible. I can only imagine what the poor family are going through. The poor guy.

    As discourteous as people can be, the machines are worse, they are just too dumb to understand. In a previous age the machines didn’t talk. Now they chatter on like children unaware of their words.

    Too true. Constantly reminded by his digital lifestream :(

  2. rutty says:

    I’m reading some of the back story to that and having a little cry at my desk. At work.

    I guess having a one year-old daughter myself has set a train of thought going. Lots of hugs for her when I go and pick her up from nursery

  3. Squander Two says:

    Once you’ve got a kid of your own, stuff that would once merely have made you think “How awful, how tragic” instead makes you cry in anguish and fury.

  4. Heather says:

    Had to think of how to respond to this one. I had a child in my life (not my own but might as well have been) did not make it to two, so I can sadly say I am qualified to answer it.

    Parents who have lost children have always had to deal with direct mail, telesales, and marketing messages for kids’ stuff that come in after the child has gone. Most countries have special hotlines for this exact purpose where deceased children can be completely removed from all marketing lists, and every marketer involved in direct sales to parents has a clear procedure for what to do when told a child is no longer with us.

    The difference there is that those reminders came from the big marketing machine on the *outside*. What Daniel is struggling with comes from *his own* accounts. It’s not a Di$ney marketing juggernaut reminding him to bring his kid in for their annual photos, it’s a video he himself uploaded and shared. And that is going to be a serious impediment to the grief process, which believe me, for a toddler, takes years.

    So I suppose it is a modern take on an old situation, caused by the need to share a child’s every waking moment online rather than just taking them in and enjoying them for what they are. It’s why I’m not on FB and I keep my child’s life private. I am giving my child a right to have her own life as a life and not as a digital sideshow to the world at large.

    My loss having occured in the 1990s, I’ve got two photos of the lost child and that’s all I have. Would I love to have hundreds of photos, videos, and updates describing the child’s every move? God no. I would not have been able to come to terms with the loss and move on in the way I just had to do, because I would be doing what Daniel is having to do – *curating* what is left of her every single day.

  5. mupwangle says:

    I’m not sure that I understand how a man can on one hand be complaining that he is constantly reminded of his grief by what he has chosen to share with the internet about his daughter while continuing to add to what he shares on the internet about his daughter. Surely this is perpetuating the issue? Also, as Heather pointed out, this is all stuff that he has shared rather than an external marketing juggernaut. Wouldn’t putting stuff on a blog, especially when getting linked to from elsewhere, make it more likely that he will receive spam emails and comments based on keywords like daughter, baby, child, etc?

  6. Heather says:

    This now steps into the surreal.

    Minutes after I added that comment this morning, the family pet had to be put down – completely unexpectedly – at the vet. In a bit of shock, I tweeted about it. I was immediately autofollowed by a pet shop trying to sell me stuff. It was an autofollow bot acting on the word “cat”.

    I think the lesson there is self-evident.

  7. Gary says:

    Oh god yes. A teenage girl died on the A9 yesterday, hit five times. I could barely read the story, felt sick. Same with the Yeates murder. This stuff affects you in a way it didn’t/couldn’t before.

  8. Gary says:

    > I am giving my child a right to have her own life as a life and not as a digital sideshow to the world at large.

    I understand that. I share some things about my daughter online but the photos and videos are friends and family only and I don’t blog about, Facebook post or tweet her every waking movement. That’s partly because I don’t think other people are interested and mainly because I don’t trust sites such as Facebook. I don’t want what I post or upload to come back in an unpleasant way in the future.

    It’s difficult, though. Once again we’re the first generation to come up against these issues, so we’re unprepared for it. It’s unrealistic, I think, to expect people not to share online – that’s the mechanism we use now. I don’t print photos (very often) to send to my mum; she checks Flickr. I don’t write letters; I blog. And so on.

    I do think online can help with grief in some cases: a quick message to share the news, a few photos as a memorial (saw that the other day and I thought it was very touching).

    I know I’ve mentioned this before, but: we also need to think about what happens to all this stuff when *we* die. When you go, who curates the media you leave behind?

  9. Gary says:

    I prefer it to facebook. No asking people’s permission to see what they’re talking about, no farmville invites.

  10. Squander Two says:

    Third year of university, one of my flatmates got rushed to intensive care with meningitis and only just pulled through. I was bearing up pretty well, and then I was in the kitchen, where we had loads of photos stuck up on the wall (students, tsk), and I saw one photo of her and suddenly was no longer bearing up very well at all. I don’t think this little anecdote really tells us anything about whether we should take photos or what we should do with them.

    Heather’s right: this is an age-old problem, not really much to do with technology. Will things remind you of your grief occasionally? Of course.

    > Every now and then he just wanted to take his mind off his grief and focus on something happier. But he was constantly reminded of his daughter by the sites and tools that were so integrated into his connected life.

    I do sympathise with the guy, but this reads a bit like “He wanted to get away from her memory so kept going to the memorial he’d built to her.” I don’t trust Facebook either, but one thing I know they do do is allow you to remove information. If I delete a load of photos from my account, Facebook will not do anything to remind me of those photos. (Apart from anything else, if they are going to use them for evil, they’re not going to want to draw my attention to their doing that.) Gary, you use Flickr. Can you delete photos from it? Does Flickr keep drawing your attention to particular ones of your photos or is it entirely down to you which of them you look at and when? Anyone used Mint?

  11. mupwangle says:

    Flickr basically has a photostream and an activity stream. If someone comments or favourites one of your images then it’ll mention it, otherwise it only shows you when you look at them, unless you’ve added them to a group as groups occasionally show you the most recent additions. Won’t show old ones normally.

  12. Heather says:

    To be fair, the death of a toddler completely f’s you up in ways you do not expect. You more or less need to write off a year of your life. It’s not that you are not thinking straight, it’s that you *are* thinking perfectly straight, because everything in the world reminds you of three simple words: “she is dead”. Walking past the baby food aisle in the supermarket sets you off. Seeing a kid in a pushchair sets you off. Watching the weather report sets you off: it’s snowing over the cemetery. She’ll be cold.

    My grieving process meant spending a lot of time with my closest friends either keeping busy or doing nothing but staring out of the window. That environment of peace, quiet, and understanding helped greatly. But this was 15 years ago. “Friends” meant real flesh and blood friends. “Peace and quiet” meant no mobile. And the grief process did not mean a steady stream of status updates going both out of and into my head.

    What I am saying is that Daniel is moving through a process that is going to take a hell of a long time, but he is not giving himself the peace, quiet, and understanding he needs. He needs to disconnect, literally and figuratively. In 2011, can anybody?

  13. gary says:

    I can’t begin to imagine what that must be like, and I hope to god I never can. I think you’re right on two counts: disconnection is the only answer, and disconnection isn’t really possible any more.

  14. Squander Two says:

    I don’t know. I don’t think disconnection’s anything like as hard to do as it is to contemplate.

    A friend of mine periodically blanks her Facebook account for a few weeks at a time, whenever she wants to get away from people and stress. Doesn’t just stop using it but turns it off so that there’s no trace of her on there at all and any comments she’s made disappear. Makes some of the conversations look a bit weird. I think she’s got it right: it’s no good just deciding not to go online, as it takes a few seconds and no effort to undermine your own decision. Disable stuff, so that going back’s a bit of work.

  15. Heather Burns says:

    Had to stop by this post again because I found a photo of the gravestone of the child in my life that I lost on the Find-A-Grave website. (I only had the strength to visit it in person once.)

    How do I feel about seeing that stone again? I had a split second of feeling “ah, there you are.” After that I feel repulsed. Over a decade after her death, a child who was only on this earth for 22 months has now been data captured, coded, and tagged for search queries.

  16. Gary says:

    I think what makes me uncomfortable about that isn’t that it’s been captured; it’s that it’s been captured on a site that was originally set up to track celebrity graves (if it’s the same site I’m thinking of). There’s something jarring about that, I think.

  17. mupwangle says:

    Is it necessarily a bad thing though now, despite it’s origin? OK, in this instance it’s distressing, but other than the usefulness when researching geneology, there’s also the issue of vandalism and decay – many gravestones are unreadable or smashed these days. If you remember a lot of councils started doing something similar (obviously pre-interwebs) for the same reasons.

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