Earlier this week, someone from my high school passed away from a hit-and-run. The boy was in my brother’s class, and had actually been a classmate of my brother’s since preschool. He was the definition of a stand-up guy and although I never had the pleasure of knowing him well, the community’s reaction has said a lot about his character. This tragedy has shaken my suburban hometown and followed me back to Chicago, as it has been a major news story since Sunday because the police still haven’t been able to identify the person who ended his life.
The strange thing about social media is how widely useful it can be. You think that all of your accounts are merely a pastime until you get hit with bad news over the Internet. Good news travels fast, but man, bad news travels at the speed of light. People posted and shared the same three news articles a hundred times over. My newsfeed was completely overtaken with memorials dedicated to the boy, and that was completely foreign to me.
I was curious about how the kids in the community were reacting to this news, so I went straight to his Facebook page. His profile was public, so every personal sentiment was available to read. After about twenty minutes of reading I felt like I had known the kid well. Everyone posted: his homecoming date, his girlfriend, his best friends, and kids who didn’t know him well but needed to say a few words. It was in these words that I could collect the kind of person he was. All of the posts were equally heartbreaking and enlightening. Never before has the living been able to talk about those who have passed interactively. Kids commented on their classmate’s posts for support, and there was a strong feeling of community. The boy had already left a legacy of kindness that helped to unite a once- divided junior class.
Social media plays a huge role in our lives, but I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting it to be so significant after death. I suppose that a person’s profile is a great way to remember them: alive and vibrant. Culture and tradition change faster than you think. Wakes used to last for a number of weeks, and we’ve changed that drastically. Will virtual memorials ever catch on? Maybe people’s loved ones will create websites as an ongoing tribute. I think the most remarkable thing I could gather from the posts is how comfortable people were posting their most private and sincere thoughts about the boy. We’ve reached an era where social media is significant in both life and death… somewhere I never thought we’d be.