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Preetam Kaushik

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Bidding Final Goodbyes on the Worldwide Web

Posted: 28/11/2013 17:41

Poets find romance in both life and death. Lesser mortals find life and death, equally traumatic. There are some who prepare for their own funeral, by informing as many people as possible, and bid all the important final good byes. The elusive 'www' created by the internet does give a faux sense of permanency to suicide notes like debris in space which never disappears. But life turns hell to those parents, family members, girl friends and boyfriends who have been mentioned in those tweets or FB posts.

Death in the time of facebook, twitter and any social website that allows access to public viewing, is a mega public affair. Suicide notes, were never this public ever before.

Never mind, the person who posted his last note of declaration of death and apology, professing love - cannot even be held accountable. Coffin has been nailed, and lowered into the grave while hoards of friends are posting those 'RIPs' on the deceased person's social networking site page. Only, it seems surreal to associate grief with poker faces, party pictures, wide smiles and holiday destinations which happen to be the profile pictures of those expressing shock or sorrow. I mean, how can you feel genuinely 'RIP my dear friend xxx' with the profile picture showing a man showing off his six packs, or gang of friends peering through at a recent party, or a woman holding up martini to the camera?

Though exact statistics are still at evolving stage, social networking sites have turned to be the hot 'suicide destination' for distraught souls to end their journey, after posting a good bye message on the web - laced with love and disappointment towards life. No wonder, private and government-appointed counselors are conducting study of suicide signs surfacing via tweets and other social networking sites.

And, people across age groups and countries are resorting to this method. While a case of young teacher ending his life after posting a note on social networking site was reported from India few days ago, beginning of the year saw American rapper Freddy E ending his life after posting series of tweets. New Mexican teenager, who was possibly very distraught over having turned father of a young child even before he finished school, ended life after explaining why he was doing so, on twitter. The note was nothing more than 515 characters long. In another case, a 60 year old sports writer Martin Manley in Kansas city, Kansas posted the story of his life on a website he has been building for a year, dialed 911 and informed them of a 'suicide' at his address, pulled out a pistol and pulled the trigger to what he termed as 'happiness'.

In all cases, except for Manley, the sense of tragedy was very high. All of them felt the world would be better without them. And when it comes to Manley, he was well aware of what he was doing, and why he chose to do. In his site, he explains that he is not depressed, or bankrupt. He had $ 200,000 in gold and was perfectly in fit shape, and had just celebrated his 60th birthday. He just decided with his most productive years behind him, infirmity with age would increase his 'fragility' and dependence on others. He simply wanted to go at a time when he could do so, without having to take anyone's help. His site, which was on prepaid roll, was taken down by a web company following his death. But, his sister Flick fought to have it restored, saying it was her brother's last wish.

Having noticed the trend of growing number of people who look for social support and bonding through social sites, which seem to create a parallel world for them without having deal with harsher realities of the world outside, a study was conducted in America on suicides or suicidal tendencies as exhibited on social networking sites. It could be just a coincidence that people with advanced age take to Facebook or other sites that allow longish notes to be posted, while teenagers and beyond took to twitter posting rather terse suicide statements or paragraphs.

Few decades ago, suicides were not so rampant and not this public. They happened under very difficult circumstances and were often a hushed up affair. But, mysterious cults and followers made it a mass movement when they began to inspire their members to end lives in groups.

These groups now have entered chat rooms and based themselves under the category of internet suicide clubs. However, what is unclear is how many of the suicides have been inspired by such clubs alone. For instance, Manley in his longish note of retrospection, which also happens to be his suicide note in virtual world, writes about the background preparation he did for the final act. There have also been cases of people streaming their suicide live on web, while they end their lives.

Suicide notes on social media may not be as strange or an off-beat phenomenon for the contemporary generation as the older ones see it. Social media is a norm to the young generation, which didn't witness its genesis. For them, it has been the most natural form of communication. And hence, a suicide note on social media is something like an extension of one's own personality, and leaving after informing the friends. Under all circumstances, whether explained or not, suicides turn into a black hole about the person's mind and preparation for it. A note whether on web or elsewhere can never unlock that secret.

 

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