On online mourning

The secret history of facial recognition.

Lately I have been thinking about the way we mourn online.

Two weeks ago, I, and perhaps others in the same hemisphere, woke up to the news of the death of Kobe Bryant. I found out through Twitter. To be honest, I could no longer recall a day where I wake up and not pick up the phone and check Twitter first, a habit I must instantly vanquish. Drew Austin in Kneeling Bus wrote about recalling the day Michael Jackson died a decade ago — he was on a bus to Chicago, a fellow commute first got the news and announced it to the entire bus. At about the same time, I recalled I was in my old office as the news made its way through my cubicle. I had no smartphone at the time, and social media was still in the fledgling stage, so what I did was texted a couple of friends and talked to a few colleagues and reminisced of how Michael Jackson’s music shaped our childhood. But news hit different now.

Yesterday a Malaysian comedian passed away in his sleep at the age of 32, prompting a flurry of heartfelt messages indexed within a Twitter hashtag, which soon trended worldwide. I found out about the news through a family Whatsapp channel, when a relative posted a link to the comedian’s friend’s Instagram post, of which he was crying into the screen of his phone, viewed by millions of viewers all over the world. Loved as he was, the Twitter timeline soon filled with users posting their own video selfies, grieving over the loss of their idol. A few parents posted videos of their children crying over the comedian’s loss. An opposite of collective effervescence, collective grieving online is just as powerful.

My father, my person, passed away in December 2011. I remembered texting a close friend that I was packing to go to the hospital, and as soon as I received the news of his passing, I texted her first and foremost. Soon, my phone (also not a smartphone, but I was already active on social media) was inundated with messages from close friends and others, who I presumed, got my number through my other friends. Unlike today at the slightest inconvenience (I am talking about myself, who sometimes overshare on social media), I didn’t instantly take the news to social media. I only browsed through the platforms the night after the funeral, replying messages from friends and colleagues who were checking on me. But soon the messages which are logistics-based (replying messages, thanking them etc.) turned into what Rachel Vorona Cote called our “very own imperfect Victorian mourning ritual” — public and performative, at which everyone was free to participate in their own online discursive ways (like, retweet, comment), or none at all (view, or mute, or block). After all, I never asked for anything much — it felt shallow to always have to talk or text someone in particular about how much I miss my dad, for I understand we are adults with numerous obligations of our own — so posting about missing my dad on social media somehow implied that you, out there, reading, have the choice to participate in my online mourning to whichever extent that you want. All of us who are mourning online — it felt like we are screaming into a void, except this void is filled with people who will just see us flailing our arms and have the choice, most of the time, to ignore us. Amidst my own flailing limbs, I see you too.

Mentioned in this article:

In my tabs:

  • “I am becoming quite popular. I heard one say that he would vacuum the HEPA filters for my gardener if he could have five minutes with his nose close to me.” If a space zucchini could write a diary, so could you.
  • Couldn’t stop thinking of the saxophonist playing ‘El derecho de vivir en paz‘ (the right to live in peace) in the middle of Santiago riots, reminiscent of the bard in Mad Max: Fury Road.
  • I still couldn’t get over the fact that some people do not have internal monologue — so lucky, and their mind must be so so quiet! But that also might explain why some people talk to themselves out loud (I used to have a roomate who did this, suffice to say I knew everything she was thinking about) as they could not verbalise what they are thinking.
  • “It’s not in the lies, it’s in the exhaustion. The danger is we become so overwhelmed that we just give up.” Ranjan Roy on the price of innovation and the tech-as-a-panacea mentality adopted by the Democrats as they kept cheering on aggressive digital and information strategies to defeat Trump. The failure of the Caucus app is also, more so than political, a monopoly story. Also, inside ACRONYM, the tech consultancy behind the disastrous Iowa Caucus app.
  • What your political burnout means, and what you can do about it.
  • Also related to the above: “Seeing those connections—and how your own actions fit within the firmament—obliterates the notion that nothing matters. So much matters, to so many people. The result of that awareness is that your heart aches in new ways. But it also grows in new ways, fortified by the knowledge that we are, truly, in this together.”
  • While looking after yourself is great, self-care is still an idea rooted in a neoliberal tradition of looking out for ourselves, rather than seeing ourselves, our health and our fates as inextricably linked to our fellow human beings. Communal, instead of, self-care. This is a tricky notion for me, as I believe in order to also be available for others, we must first take care of ourselves. What do you think?
  • Coronavirus is causing video conferencing tools like WeChat Work and Zoom in China to crash as workers turn to them by the millions to keep work going.
  • “Visible mending insists that beauty can be built in the wake of a breakdown, and that we can connect to one another even in times of rupture.” On sashiko, the art of visible mending in Japan.
  • Look out over the prow. There are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you.”


  • Reading: Still Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings, which also made me think of the concept ‘internal cartographies‘ as everyday life is disrupted in the midst of war.
  • Listening: Spotify generated a playlist for my cat Monty based on his temperament — I mentioned he’s somewhat 60% chill 40% tempestuous — so the app came with this playlist for him. I have a name for this, it’s cute cat surveillance (a spin-off of cute cat theory).
  • Viewing: The smart girl trope, explained.
  • Food & Drink: I’m having those Vietnamese spring rolls again. Shut up.

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