Serving Arizona State University Online Since 1995  Current Issue: Thursday, April 06, 2006





Real-Life Online: MySpace Memoriam

Turns out social networking Web sites have a serious side

 by Mani O'Brien
 published on Thursday, April 6, 2006

<em>Photo illustration</em>Mani O'Brien keeps the memory of her late friend Craig alive by visiting his page. She says reading his comments helps her feel close to him.  
Photo illustrationMani O'Brien keeps the memory of her late friend Craig alive by visiting his page. She says reading his comments helps her feel close to him.


"I noticed you are ONLINE! And it's 9:27 here which means it's 7:27 there which means you are up early! Cool enjoy your day," reads the most recent message that I got from Craig Brooks on MySpace. Ever since I first joined MySpace, I could look forward to random comments from Craig on a regular basis, sometimes as simple as "Oorah."

Craig sent me this message two days before he died in a motorcycle accident on March 5. The news of his death shocked me. My heart ached as the helplessness set in, and suddenly, MySpace and Facebook became more than a way to talk to my friends, but an outlet with which to cope with my grief.

When Craig left to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., after graduating from Tempe High five years ago, I only saw him during school breaks. The best way for his friends to stay in contact with him then was through social networking Web sites.

The rise in popularity of social networking Web sites is obvious -- MySpace recently beat Google as the Neilsen/NetRatings No. 13 most-visited Web site in the world. MySpace allows its users to design their own profiles and post pictures, videos and blog entries. Such features allow people the opportunity to remember their loved ones in a way that they haven't always been able to.

I sign onto MySpace for the 26th day in a row since Craig's accident to visit his profile. As soon as the news of Craig's death spread, friends began posting comments on his page.

Even weeks after Craig passed, friends leave messages to Craig like Mia Mayweather's simple "I miss you!" on March 28. On March 30, Erin Lister writes, "I see you in each of your family members, and feel inspired by them in the way I felt inspired by you. Even though you have better things to do now than to read MySpace, I thought I'd share it anyway."

Craig's friend Jason Johnson says he has visited his MySpace site every day.

"It helps to read messages on his page," he says. "It helps to know how much people cared about him."

Johnson says he also likes to read Craig's thoughts by reading his interests and blogs and browsing through pictures.

"It helps bring back memories of what he was like," he says.

On his Facebook profile, I read Craig's interests: flying, cars, car audio, basketball, baseball. His unfulfilled Spring Break plans are posted --- a cruise to Miami, Key West and Cozumel. I smile as I browse through his photos: Craig water skiing, Craig pointing at the camera with an "angry" expression on his face, Craig holding a shot glass as he toasts with a group of friends on his birthday.

Craig was 23 years old and scheduled to graduate this May, after which he was going to be stationed at Hickam Air Force base in Honolulu, Hawaii as an Air Force meteorologist. Reading his "About Me" section reminds me of Craig's positive outlook on life. It is as if he is speaking to me about living life to the fullest.

"I'm going to be going active duty soon, I just need to get through and do it right, there is no time to waste," Craig writes. "Remember, stay alert stay alive; fall asleep six feet deep."

John Suler, a psychology professor who researches the psychology of cyberspace at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., says that using the Web for the purpose of grieving is an interesting phenomenon.

"Part of the grieving process is to 'internalize' the person who is gone -- i.e., to remember and make part of oneself the good qualities and attributes of the person, to recall good experiences we had with the person, and to hold onto their 'presence,'" says Suler in an e-mail interview.

"People often do this by looking at photographs, videos, scrapbooks, letters, etc. that contain memories of the deceased person. Now the Web is being used for the same reason."

As helpful as visiting Craig's profiles online has been to me, it is difficult for others.

Craig's mother, Mary-Laura Brooks, says she has not visited his MySpace site, but that she will eventually.

"I know I will in time, but currently it's too painful. I did read some old e-mails he had sent me though, so I am making baby steps," she says. "However, I think any form of communication is vital and I am thankful that this type of technology exists, as eventually I know it will be very important to me, and I am glad it is helping you and others."

Brooks says that it is important that we communicate with loved ones not only during a time of grief, but also on a daily basis.

"As we have learned, there are no guarantees in life, so maintaining important relationships is a priority," she says. "Technology can be a great benefit in that way."

Her words remind me that without MySpace, I may not have had the opportunity to communicate with Craig on a regular basis. I miss him and his random comments. I am grateful to have a piece of him available, although I won't see him for a very long time. I hope he still checks his comments. Oorah.

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