Some people subscribe to my blog posts (and/or the comments left on posts) by email, which means that my system sends them a message from time to time. This is all done automatically, so I normally never see these messages, but the other day I received a reply to one, from a guy whose name I recognized from the comments he'd left on my blog over time, and from some private email exchanges we'd had about Lightroom.
This particular guy lives in Bangkok, but is British, so I didn't expect the bordering-on-gibberish broken English of the short message in his reply. After looking at it for a few moments, it dawned on me what the writer was trying to say. Translating in full, it said “I'm his wife; sorry to tell you he died.”
I went to his blog, which normally has two or three new posts a day, and found it showing nothing new for the last two weeks. The most recent post (the last post), about some photographic technology, had accumulated a few comments from regular readers along the lines of “dude, where have you been?”
I went to his Flickr site; the last photo was uploaded on the same day as his last post, of a rotary-dial phone, with a “don't see these around much any more” caption.
I didn't know the guy.... I didn't know how old he was, what he looked like, or even that he had a wife, but two things were apparent from the message I'd received: he was dead, and he had a Thai wife whose English was not good. For some reason that latter part had a big impact on me. I could envision a grieving wife trying to come to terms with things, finding his email account and seeing all these long English-language messages from the same address (my blog's automated system, though I'm sure she didn't know what it was), and wanting to at least try to let the sender know that he'd passed. She wanted to get the word out to his friends, but didn't have the linguistic or technical ability to do so.
His blog sitting there in the state he left it seemed somehow wrong, somehow unfitting. If his online friends didn't know of his passing, those in a position to help his wife wouldn't be able to. Like I said, my imagination of the situation had a big impact on me, and I wanted to try to do something.
To try to get the word out, I first added a comment on his last blog post telling what I'd heard from his wife, but it turns out that comments were moderated, so no one would see the comment until he manually approved it, something that seemed unlikely at this point. There were comments asking “where are you?”, so I figure for me to see them they must have been from friends he trusted enough to white-list in his moderation system, so that their messages would bypass the moderation queue and appear immediately. So I followed the link trail, and was eventually able to contact someone who knew him in Bangkok. "He didn't show up for lunch and I was getting worried, but I only have his email, so couldn't call him to ask what was up." Now he knew.
I also was able to contact a blog friend in North America who had also been getting worried. He was able to then follow his own contacts and finally confirmed that indeed the man had died. I have no idea about the circumstances, other than “unexpected”, which one could gather from the full-steam-ahead online presence he had that suddenly, unceremoniously, stopped. I suppose it was a car accident or heart attack, but I don't know.... in any case, the result remains the same.
I'd felt compelled to do something, and however little, I had, which then allowed my thoughts to wander. It's a vastly different world now than for the first umpteen thousand years of human existence, where one's presence can be extended all around the world with unprecedented ease (just start a blog, or upload some photos), garnering a friendship of global proportions, yet, still, have all those links be of the most tenuous, fragile nature that can completely miss an event as significant as death.
I wondered what will happen to his blog, to his online photos? Without help from an English speaker, I suspect his wife won't do anything (but even if she could, what would she want to do?). Will his Flickr site stay there until.... forever? Or will Yahoo eventually decide that since no one has logged in for X years, delete it? Will his blog stay there until a disk wears out, or will someone come in and dismantle it? Will someone put up a post-mortem post telling the world that the author died?
I wondered about all this without much direction, but with a profound sense of sadness related to, I guess, the disconnect between our offline presence (our life) and our online presence, and how when one is turned off at our death, the other is left.... hanging.
I wondered what post will be at the top of my blog when I die. I doubt it'll be something like “Heading across the street to get the mail; hope I don't get hit by a bus!” or “Doctor says prognosis is not good.” Given the demographics of my posts, it'll probably be something mundane and boring, like “Hey Look, a Pretty Flower!”
So when my posting frequency slows due to a slight case of death, how long before people notice? Will they notice? In my case, my wife can speak English very well, and my technologically-unchallenged brother in America could figure out how to put a note on my blog informing of my untimely demise, but what about if Fumie and I died in the same accident... how would word ever even get to my family in America?
I suppose I shouldn't worry about this stuff.... heck, it won't matter to me because I'll be dead.... but thinking about it still makes me a bit melancholy. Of course, I've thought about death plenty before, as anyone does, and the amazing abruptness of “we know neither the time nor the place” remains as impactful as ever, but for some reason this new angle seems to make things a bit different... just a touch more real.
I prayed for him and his wife. It felt a bit odd, since I don't even know who they are, but I trust that God does.
For the record, should I die unexpectedly any time soon, I'd hope my blog could remain available, for Anthony to read when he gets old enough.