Dying in Croydon in the age of social media

By - Thursday 28th January, 2016

Jonny Rose explores the effect of modern technologies on death and mourning

From Simon Binner’s LinkedIn profile.
Image author’s own.

A remarkable Croydon Guardian story from last year caught my eye recently: Simon Binner, a 57 year old man from Purley, suffering from motor neurone disease announced his own death on LinkedIn.

Binner used the social network for professionals to alert followers to his imminent departure from this world – care of Switzerland’s Eternal Spirit clinic – before making his last update, just before the event, with “I died on Mon 19 Oct 2015″.

Whilst the story got a huge amount of attention (mostly around the ‘right to die’ campaign and the assisted suicide bill that was being debated in parliament at the time), what was missed by the majority of the media was that Binner’s LinkedIn update was a world first – and, by extension, a Croydon first, too.

Death in the social media age

Binner may have been the first person in Croydon to announce his death on LinkedIn, but he certainly wasn’t the first social media-user in Croydon to die.

Sadly, a local acquaintance of mine, Kevin Boyle, took his life a few years ago. Kevin had been a longstanding member of Purley Breakfast Club and part of the early social media scene that has been growing in Purley over the past few years. His Twitter feed continues to serve as a reminder of the character that he was – he loved food, people, and his local community. His Facebook page is even more of a reminder.

Social media means that we live on

The advent of social networking allows people to live longer than their time here on earth.

Facebook is essentially a biography of our lives, hence the ‘timeline’. With just a few clicks, I can see pictures chronicling a man whose life was tragically cut short. Kevin’s profile, which on a normal day was filled with fun pictures, links, messages and videos, has now become a memorial tribute page. People posted photos and messages to his profile, the digital equivalent of leaving flowers on a tombstone.

Kevin’s profile has sort of become another grave, but nothing like the traditional sort: it is now a memorial filled with life. Our memories of Kev are supplemented by the beautiful pictures and touching messages written to him and posted on his profile. Messages from people that I never knew, but who are either friends or family, and whose lives were changed by the man.

Social media sites like Facebook give us the opportunity to keep people alive. Although in the bottom of our hearts we know that the dead will never read the messages that we post for them, social media offers a new avenue for family and friends to keep them alive. By writing to Kevin or Simon Binner or their equivalent in your life, and acknowledging them in our digital networks, it doesn’t matter if there is a physical person on the other side of the profile or not. They live on.

What will your social media feed say about you when you’re gone?

There are bigger questions and conversations that can be eked out from these two stories: questions about mortality, coping with illness, life after death, public grief rituals, etc. But, for now, I’m pondering the implications of a social profile that endures beyond the life of its owner: an issue brought into sharp, yet untimely, focus by these two different Croydonians.

Our headstones traditionally serve as a place for our lives and characters to be immortalised. In the future, it will be our social media profiles.

What will your social media footprint say about you when you’re gone: will you be seen as an embittered troll who always argued, or will your feed be one that elicits laughter? Will your Twitter feed show you to be a passionate Croydonian, or does Facebook reveal you to be someone who’s always complaining?

Whatever conclusion you come to, as long as you’re reading this – it’s not too late to change.
Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • Max Shirley

    I’ve never seen social media in that way – how interesting.

  • http://www.thegreenstoryteller.com Charles Barber

    Interesting article, and somehow quite comforting that social media might allow one a little after life and help give comfort to those in mourning. Of course it also means that if you have a bit of notice, that you can actually write your own obituary, and perhaps get a loved one to post it after you’ve taken that final taxi ride (as dear Ian Dury once put it). As for myself, I don’t care too much about what’s written, but if someone were to plant a tree in my name, I’d be truly honoured.