“One evening late last year my home-page glowed with headlines declaring that
Facebook had passed the billion mark.
Clicking open my calculator app, I puzzled
over the number of dead that must reside
on the site: How many could be expected
to die by the end of the year? How many by
today’s date next year?
“My gloomy frame of mind was an inheritance from the recent deaths
of friends who had passed away very young, all of them leaving Facebook
profiles behind. Most recently, a friend I hadn’t spoken to for years was
beaten to death and disposed of in a concrete block. It might have seemed
to his other friends, as it seemed to me, that his death had taken place on
Facebook, where we heard the news, which didn’t sound wholly real, and
where we can engage with him every day. But the link between death
and Facebook was forged for me much earlier, in my first year of college.
That year my neighbor in Mrs. Tyrone’s Spanish class became the first
person in my graduating class to die. Since that year—both Facebook’s
freshman year and mine—the website provided a strange vantage point
from which I saw death.
“Last year when Jenna died—Jenna was my first girlfriend in fourth
grade and later one of my only friends in New York from home—her
death appeared on Facebook as an event like any other. The giant swell
of comments that blossomed resembled the birthdays, graduations or
weddings of other friends. Now, each new post pushes her death further
downward into her still receding past, as though she’s put it past her—or
we, her friends, have found a way to put it past us. This essay came out
of observing and taking part in these new, accidental rituals, and out of
my care for the memory of these friends.”
Alexander Landfair’s work has recently appeared or is forthcoming
in Guernica, The Boston Review and The Spoon River Poetry Review. He
lives in New York, where he is assistant director of the Writing Center at
MEET THE AUTHOR