Sunday, January 24, 2016

How the digital age has changed our approach to death and grief

"In the 20th century, many people actually valued the privacy that removed their dying or grieving from the sight of others. Visibility, offline or online, creates the possibility of support, but it also requires the sufferer to put on a public face which may not mirror their internal torment.

Visibility also increases the chances of unhelpful comments and even censure. This is apparent in grieving, where mourners may be criticised for grieving too much or too little, too long or not long enough, for being too stoical or too expressive. Facebook, with its upbeat ethos, may not be where young people dying of cancer want to share their worst fears and deepest anxieties.

In the US, split between religious conservatism and liberal humanism, people’s very different ways of dealing with suffering and finding hope in mortality might once have stayed within their communities. But in the borderless online world they bang up against each other, often adding to the suffering. Fundamentalist sites discussing euthanasia or post-abortion grief can be profoundly unhelpful to those seeking advice and counsel. Liberal humanist sites may not be welcomed by some who are religious and after pastoral help.

This is why online groups restricted to particular age groups with particular conditions or particular religious beliefs, can be valuable. But online sites run by people living with certain life-threatening conditions – notably depression and anorexia – can disturb friends and family. Such sites may even embrace suicide pacts or a pro-anorexia ethos, and may get shut down, adding to their members' feeling not being understood.

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How the digital age has changed our approach to death and grief

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