Sunday, August 25, 2013

Social Media and Death

Many of us listen to Scott Simon on NPR and recently followed him on Twitter as he spent time with his mother as she was nearing the end of life.  As a result of his willingness to share his experiences, we now can consider the role of social media at the end of someone's life. The August 20th  Atlantic ran a story by Paul Bisceglio, titled How Social Media is Changing the Way We Approach Death. The story talks about Scott Simon's tweets in his mother's final days, shares some stories of others who have used social media to connect with others as they go through their illness and offers a discussion on the role of social media when mourning a person. Dying is a very personal experience and social media may change the way people face it or participate in it.  Part of the story discusses what benefits may accrue to society as a whole to have a more open discussion about dying and death.

Thanks to Naomi Cahn from GW Law for forwarding the article to us for inclusion in this blog.

Continuing on, Scott Simon did a story on August 3 about his mother, titled "'Three Jewish Husbands but No Guilt': My Mother's Wisdom."  Mr. Simon's tweeting also became a story as Andy Carvin at NPR did a story about the story, if you will, "On Twitter, Scott Simon's Long Goodbye to his Mother." which led to a story on All Tech Considered where NPR staff interviewed Mr. Simon  about his tweets on his mother's final days.  Monica Hesse of the Washington Post wrote about the tweets in her July 29 story, "NPR's Scott Simon Takes Twitter to a New Frontier: His Mother's Bedside". Her story mentions his tweet about the ICU nurses and his thanks to them and that the:

"feed [was] retweeted by Katie Couric, Esquire magazine, the AARP, the “Today” show, the normally sharp-edged BuzzFeed. Which led perfect strangers to tell Simon that he had made them burst into tears. Which led readers to think about good deaths and good lives." 

The article continues, discussing the reaction of the community of tech writers:

"Tech writers immediately began linking to Simon’s Twitter feed, heralding the emotional reactions as stunning examples of what Twitter could accomplish. The GigaOM headline read, “NPR host’s live-tweeting of his mother’s last moments shows the power of 140 characters."

The article, similarly to the Atlantic article, discusses how death has been viewed and discussed (or not) in this country.  Matt Pearce in the LA Times also wrote about Mr. Simon's tweets, quoting several of them as transitions in his story, NPR Host Scott Simon Tweets His Mother's Dying Days. Mr. Pearce describes the role of social media:

"Social media is playing its own role in reshaping the handling of death in American life, partially as a medium that functions as a gathering point for public mourners while giving grievers room to express themselves how they like."

These are just a few of the articles discussing Mr. Simon's tweets and how social media is impacting how we discuss death in the U.S.  I can sign an on-line guest book for someone who has died. I have heard of tributes to recently deceased people on sites such as Facebook.

So perhaps this "new frontier" of communication will ultimately be a catalyst for further discussions.  I wonder whether the number of people who make advance directives will increase as a result of such conversations. What do you think?

 Becky Morgan

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