The shock of bad news on social media.
Most mornings, even before my alarm goes off, I’m awakened by a familiar sound: Ding. And then another. Ding. Before my feet even hit the floor, I have picked up my phone from my nightstand and begun to read the morning news. Let’s face it: fewer people read the newspaper today than they did yesterday. In the technological world, we live in, most of the information we encounter comes from an online source.
In today’s world, we hear about the news with a “ding” or a feed that populated our screen as a notification. We know instantly if someone liked a video we posted or if there was an earthquake on the other side of the globe. Large amounts of disparate information reach our screens constantly, and the way we filter this information and peruse notifications may be more complicated than we give our- selves credit for.
Notifications are constant. They are new messages, posts, and tags from everyone and no one. These small bits of information posted by the world around us carry news, both new and old, funny and sad, every day and odd.
We feel good and maybe even a twinge of excitement when we open one of our social media applications and see notifications waiting for us. They are things we care about, at least a little, most of the time. They help bring all the critical events of the recent past to the front and center. Some get a glance; others get a more in-depth look or an expanded read. On a good day, “likes” rain down on everything we see; on other days, we are more reserved and enjoy our anonymous scrolling.
We get to be involved in everyone’s life we choose to be, from lifelong friends to one-time acquaintances. All of them, for better or worse, are there. Often posts are joys and slight brags, but sometimes they serve to vent or share sorrows. Whether we see these notifications as a numbered bubble that draws the eye, or via alarms, chimes/dings, red “unread” notifications in social media, and unread text messages, each is attached to something with the potential to impact us. Usually, the impact is small, but sometimes, as many of us have learned, it can carry so much more.
According to an IDC Research study, “Within the first fifteen minutes of waking up, four out of five smartphone owners are checking their phones, and among these people, nearly 80 percent reach for their phone before doing anything else, and 62 percent reach for it immediately after waking up.”(1)
This data was gathered as part of a study conducted as an online survey of 7,446 people sponsored by Facebook of eighteen to forty-four-year-old iPhone and Android smartphone owners in the United States. The findings report that, on average, users spend more than an hour on social media sites each weekday and more than two hours Friday through Sunday. (2)
My habits are not much different nor free from the highs and lows found on social media.
It was the middle of winter outside, and the winds that always found Mount Oread on cold days caught the bare branches of the trees on campus and drew my attention out the window. The cold air made even the moving trees feel still. The sunlight brought a warm glow to the limestone-clad campus, even in the midmorning hours. The light of my cell phone seemed to fill the dark corner of my room as I grabbed it from the charger, and as the numbers show us, most of us wake, accompanied by the same glow of cellphone light in the modern world.
It was a groggy college morning as I stumbled through my dorm room, throwing on a shirt and sitting down in the oversized chair squeezed into my tiny room. I began my daily routine with a glance at my cellphone before getting ready for the day.
It was a groggy college morning as I stumbled through my dorm room…
First up, I checked my email. Nothing seemed to stand out while scrolling through the headlines. The typical group project back and forth and a few forwards of a cat with a funny caption overhead. Nothing was so important that it could not be handled later during a lecture.
Next up, social media. That will get the brain going. A quick scroll through Twitter was a good place to start. All seems well; a celebrity commented on this or that, a friend linked an odd news clip, and there was a far-out political post here and there. Again, nothing interesting enough to dive into came across the screen with each rapid scroll. Each post addressed partial attentiveness as I continued to wake up.
Facebook seemed like an excellent way to wrap things up before heading to the showers. My wall sprang to life with a click of the blue logo. Pictures of friends instantly populated my screen. A post from friends who had rebelled and gone out the night before came up and inspired closer examination. A quick zoom in, and yup, that’s what I thought I saw. That was a picture with the guy down the hall in the background. I’m sure he will be untagging that one later. Yikes! One index finger flick after another, the past days’ highs and lows came across the screen. Another post about a group studying for a test brought the day’s schedule to mind. I was not ready for that, yet I kept scrolling. Next, there was a status update from “In a Relationship” to “It’s Complicated.” It must have been a rough night. More of the expected pictures and posts, some happy, another scroll, some excited, another scroll, some vague, continued to show up on the screen. Wait, what did that one say?
The world lost two great people last night. This Sucks. (5:13 a.m.)
That’s not good. Who posted it? Oh, a friend from high school. It must have been a family member, wonder who?
Another heavy scroll of the index finger sent still more skimmed posts across the screen.
In another post, Heaven gained two beautiful souls. Praying for their families. (5:37 a.m.)
Man, it must have been somebody back home.
It was just past 7:30 a.m.
A piece of small-town news always seemed to spread like wildfire, and Facebook only gave those of us out-of-town a glimpse at how far and fast news spread. I wonder whose parents it could be.
Another heavy scroll, another similar post, stopped on the screen.
Jake & Steph, at least you have each other. We’ll miss you! Sending our prayers! (7:12 a.m.)
Wait a minute. Huh? Jake and Stephanie. That can’t be right.
I’d seen them on campus Friday. I could see the profile right in front of me. We were connected as much as all of our other friends at that moment, by opposing ends of the screen. Our disconnection felt more real with the devastating news, and
the shock that accompanied felt like I was one of the last to hear, when in reality, it had only been a few hours. We are all so connected by our loose online connections, making it hard to comprehend that we are simultaneously disconnected.
Soon I was drowning in the information that social media was only too willing to provide with efficiency. Looking at each of their profile pages and new messages by the minute, I knew it was true.
Two deaths had gone viral in our small community just a short ride down the road, the same roads that had been the site of the last moments of the same two friends’ lives. The first members of our friend group from high school, the two who had always been the ones who would be together forever, had been in a car crash.
Among the feed of puppy pictures, memes, and pictures from high points of the weekend, I had learned that two of my friends were gone forever.
In this age of modern and instant notification, we receive most of our information from the mixed bag that is social media. We get to hear about the world around us in real-time and have a chance to receive the past at will. Sometimes an annoying ping is just too much, or a build-up of uninteresting notifications and messages has to be cleared. Still, in some cases, the constant scrolling brings information we will never really be ready to hear.
Being conscious of what is being shared both as a person posting and someone reading a post allows us to start developing an internal gauge of the etiquette required for posting on social media in the tech generation.
For more interesting topics that discuss death, dying, and bereavement in a technology world, check out: Digital Remains by J.H. Harrington. Available anywhere books are sold.
(1) IDC Research, “Always Connected,” An IDC Research Report, Accessed May 29, 2020.
(2) An IDC Research Report, “Always Connected,” IDC Research, Accessed May 29, 2020.