We have all heard of the good and bad of Facebook. The good including the ability to find old friends, and keep in touch with friends and family. The bad including the well documented problems with Facebook privacy, the somewhat egocentric aspect (i.e. it encourages you to let everyone know the minutiae of your life which probably even bore you!), and the chance that the safety of users will be compromised if they give out too many personal details.
Well, here’s another for the bad column. Although perhaps this extends to all social networking sites, and modern communication in general. I’m thinking here specifically of Twitter and text messaging. I love text messaging as much as (probably more than!) most people, but it does get used for some messages that are probably best given in person, and on a one-to-one basis.
Recently, a friend lost his brother in a car accident. Within hours people were posting condolence messages on the brother’s Facebook page. While this was meant in a caring way, the problem is that not all of the brother’s immediate family had been notified of his death. So his elderly mother had to be woken in the middle of the night to be told of her son’s death. And because the mother lives alone, and doesn’t have other family in her town, a minister had to be woken and dispatched to be with her when she got the news. The brother’s eldest daughter, who was on an overnight flight between South Africa and Europe, also had to be contacted immediately on landing. She’s a tech-savvy person who uses Facebook on her mobile device, so would have seen the messages. As she was there on business, there was nobody to be there with her when she received the bad news. Then followed days of worry for her family back in South Africa, as she took the news really badly, and communication with her was difficult.
In another case, a friend of ours was killed in a freak boating accident while working in Malaysia. Here it wasn’t the initial notification of his death which was the problem. Working in a more remote area, most people did not have daily contact with him. While Facebook proved to be a good method of letting all his friends know what had happened, and for them to leave messages of condolence for his family, his Facebook page has become a spooky kind of shrine. In some cases, people do not seem to know he has died. In others they write to him to tell him how much he is missed. While it is a testament to how many people knew and loved him, I wonder whether this allows closure for his family? I know that they did appreciate friends and colleagues telling their stories of him at his memorial service, but I wonder if this way of trying to keep his memory alive is the most appropriate? But maybe that’s just me . . .
Another aspect to this is that local (and by local, I mean within the same country i.e. within easy telephone access) friends are no longer speaking to the family in person to convey their condolences. They’re avoiding that awkward moment of not knowing what to say to somebody who has just lost a loved one. I’m not sure how the families in the above cases felt about this. But on witnessing the above examples, I didn’t have the feeling that Facebook was the way to go. I know that when my father died, my mother really appreciated people taking the time to have personal contact with her. Even if they didn’t know what to say, the personal contact helped her through a very difficult time.
What do you think?