The Algorithm Doesn’t Know My Friend Is Dead
Do you have LinkedIn? I do. I don’t know why I have it. Does anyone use it? Has anyone been like, “Thank God I have LinkedIn! It 100% impacted my life in a positive way!” I seriously doubt that has ever been uttered, but I have it and it sends me notifications and I let it keep sending them to me. I can stop it whenever I want, but I never do. I would rather complain about the notifications than bother to turn them off, which would take five minutes. I think this is the social media equivalent of having a clock in your house that is 10 minutes off and rather than reset it, you contextualize the very idea of time as it pertains to that specific area of your home. “When I am in the kitchen it is not actually 12:07; it is 12:17. Time is fake.” I mention all this to say that LinkedIn has twice prompted me to congratulate my dead friend on their work anniversary. If I haven’t even turned off notifications I am not going to be the one to break the news to them that my friend has been dead for four years.
Grief in the modern age is a strange beast. There are so many ways we keep our cherished memories alive, and I honestly appreciate them. I have so many pics saved on my phone that I can post when the feeling strikes or when an anniversary (like today) or birthday hits. People can see that picture and know a little bit about what is going on in my head, and they can reach out or simply offer some sweet little heart emoji. People may condescend to this, but denying that it is a part of the way I (or many others) live my life would only be a lie. I have saved voicemails, videos, emails, and iPhone notes. These are all traces, perhaps minor or major, of a life that was lived in the very recent past. People have always saved possessions of loved ones to better hold on to their memories. Now with social media, we have a digital version of this. The twist is that those companies haven’t quite reckoned with how to deal with their users dying.
LinkedIn wants me to congratulate my dead friend on keeping their job and Facebook thinks she would be pumped to be invited to my comedy show! I can’t imagine anyone would want their eternal slumber interrupted for either of these things. (Do They Get Notifications In Heaven? will be my millennial Mitch Albom NYT bestseller breakthrough.) She is also still floating around in the ether of Instagram and Twitter, like a literal ghost in the machine. It’s weird as hell. Anyone who checked in would assume these are dormant accounts. People’s first assumption is rarely “THEY MUST BE DEAD,” unless we are talking about a date who ghosted us. She is very much dead, and yet there she is dressed like her creepy hillbilly alter ego, Ricky Wells, or tweeting about her niece’s ass having to be wiped by an adult. Something about the nature of social media imbues these things with the joie de vivre of my friend in a way other things don’t. I love those other digital mementos — don’t get me wrong, they have meaning to me — but there is something specifically cathartic about posting something on her Facebook wall or retweeting her or stalking through her Instagram. As I do this, I can hold both the knowledge of her death and the feeling of her liveliness in my head, and wow, this is a helpful way to mourn. I hope her social media profiles never go away.
Mourning is ongoing. Boy, does it ever go on. It seems to go on even longer than you ever think it will, even when you are smack-dab in the hardest part of it. As I write this, it is four years since my friend passed away. I found her in the apartment we shared together. It broke my heart into a million pieces. I spent a lot of time putting this old ticker back together. Luckily I had the help of my girlfriend (now fiancée!), family, friends, cheeseburgers, bourbon, oversleep, sweatpants, and comedy. But the mourning remains and it changes and it evolves. I don’t mourn like I did in the immediate aftermath, or even a few years back when I had to reckon with the fact that there was more mourning to do. I mourn like I do right now. Next year it will be different, but I will have her dumb tweets, and Instagram posts, and hopefully another LinkedIn notification to help me remember she was once on this planet and living/surviving here the same way I was. Who knows? Maybe I’ll invite her to a comedy show and roll the dice!
(I wrote this and published it and went to share it on Facebook, and of course the algorithm suggested I tag her in the post. Everything is the dumbest and funniest.)