My Tech Digest columns are usually fairly whimsical, so this one has been quite difficult to write. It touches on a sensitive and topical issue which is still being investigated — that of the recent suicides of seven young people in and around Bridgend, South Wales.
None of us know — and perhaps we’ll never know — exactly what motivated those teenagers to take their own lives, and I’m not for one moment suggesting that the Internet couldn’t have played a role in it, if indeed those suicides are connected in some way. However, many other methods of communication could also have contributed to them.
The local MP, Madeleine Moon, is rightly concerned, but has hit out at memorial web sites which she claims “romanticise death”.
“What is concerning is that you’re getting Internet bereavement walls. That’s not going to help anyone,” she told the Reuters news agency.
I’m sorry, Ms Moon, but that is a gross oversimplification of the situation. While I can’t profess to understand the modern teenager, I am probably of a generation somewhere in between theirs, and yours, and I do understand the positive power of online tributes.
For many young people now, technology and the Internet have become a central part of their lifestyle and means of communication. These online memorials are the modern day books of remembrance, and are treated just as seriously by those who choose to add to them.
Towards the end of 2006, a friend to many of us here at Shiny Media died suddenly. Many people, including myself, set up online “books of remembrance” which still stand to this day, and I know for a fact, from comments received, that they have helped.
Granted, we’re not teenagers, but it’s quite insulting to somehow suggest that they are wasting their time, or that what actions they take online are any less meaningful.
Don’t misunderstand me: there is absolutely a place for seeking help from trained counsellors, family and friends. I’m quite sure that there are some macabre sites that do seek to romanticise death, too, but it’s totally unjustified to suggest that all such online memorials are such.
Why is it so strange that people would seek to leave a lasting testament to how much they loved someone, admired them, valued their friendship and the times they had spent together, in a way that is second nature?
Nothing at all.
“What people need is not to go into a virtual world of the Internet to deal with emotional problems,” said Moon. “They need to stay very much in this real world and talk to real people.”
Though you may not like this, Ms Moon, technology is now at the heart of how many do communicate — real people talking to other real people. It’s not just the youth either, before we settle for a stereotype.
The situation is yet another tragedy, which may or may not have been influenced by today’s technology. Yet, it doesn’t mean that it can’t also be used for positive things. Please don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to how whole sections of society now choose to build community based on a tragedy.