Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In the Newspaper: MyDeathSpace

I am something of a newspaper addict. Many people now get their news online, I know, but I still like to read the old fashioned paper copy that appears on my front walk every morning. Like the crazy guy in "Heart of Darkness," I am ritualistic about how I approach my daily friend. First I scan the front section, and even read the articles that catch my eye, time permitting. Next I look at the editorial page, which is in the 2nd section. I allow myself to read the editorial cartoons, but just look at the headlines of the columns and put the section aside for later. Then I briefly glance at the local section, checking out columns there and maybe glancing the TV guide. The rest is saved for later when I continue with my orderly march through the paper. I will spare any readers that progression....All this is to say that every single day I see things in the paper related to technology that are worth exploring or discussing. Often I then mention them with students via Blackboard Discussion Board. It occurred to me to sometimes mention things gleaned from the paper in this forum as well.

Here is one: Much has been made of the way young people reacted to the Virginia Tech shootings by going to MySpace. This, to me, is one way that social networking can be beneficial. Yesterday I read in the paper about a sub-group of MySpace called MyDeathSpace. I got the feeling that this subgroup was well known, but I had never heard of it. Wikipedia explains that this site offers information about MySpace account holders who have died. I paid it a visit. While this site might sound a bit macabre, I found it to be in good taste. Not only did it offer links to MySpace users who were killed, which includes most of the students, but also to pages for other victims. I was interested in Dr. Liviu Librescu, for instance, and clicking on his picture took me to his faculty web page. Since I often pay visits to professors' web pages, seeing his somehow made him more real to me. I read about his publications, awards, and courses taught. Even though he was clearly a senior faculty member, he was pulling a full load with four classes this spring. Of course this led me to think about those classes, and how all his students must feel.

Next I moved on and visited a student's page. I was taken by the ebullient picture of Erin Peterson, just 18 and a VT freshman. Her page reflected the outgoing personality displayed in her picture. Reading her bio and the comments posted there was a touching reminder of the fragility of life. For some reason, even more moving than the tributes were the "normal everyday" comments that she probably had read shortly before her death as she and her friends communicated via MySpace.

I can certainly see how Internet places like this serve a special and valuable role in helping all of us, and especially young, technology savvy people, remember and grieve lost loved ones. If you have not paid a visit to MyDeathSpace, here is the link:

1 comment:

  1. Although Mike Patterson claims to have had altruistic intentions behind the creation of his website, the truth is much less flattering.

    From Willamette Week Online:
    "Patterson, however, is quite clear that he is not running a memorial site. He's running a business and making himself famous as a purveyor of Internet taste and fandom. "I love the publicity MyDeathSpace has received," he wrote. The site now maintains an entire forum devoted to MDS hate mail. [...]"

    Clearly, the webmaster wants to make money with a sensationalist website. Before, he had a account where he listed the casualties along with a "coolness" rating for the cause of death.

    Since it's beginnings MyDeathSpace has been a magnet for controversy.If MyDeathSpace was only an online obituary as it claims, it would be fine. But it also offers forums where members may discuss the deaths. Although the website asks that comments be respectful the forum is in fact poorly moderated and full of defamatory, disrespectful and even racist comments about the dead. Many deaths are commented on with jokes or, "what a dumb ass" and even the occasional "he/she deserved to die".

    The members, and the site administrators relish when a family or friend of the deceased stumbles across Mydeathspace. Then it's open season on the grieving. Many family members write in to complain and Mike Patterson and the other moderators and administrator post these letters in the Hate Mail section, so they can be derided and ridiculed by the forum community. Sometimes he will even post the email and or home address of the person complaining, opening them up to harrassment and threats from community members. It is truly disgusting.

    Another controversy involves the soliciting of nude photographs from new female members, regardless of age. There has been some question whether some of these girls are of legal age, and whether there are nude photos of underage girls posted on the MyDeathSpace website.