Suddenly everything is dead or dying. Twitter is in death throes, and Facebook, well, it's already a rotting corpse. Also, blogs are dead (in lieu of flowers, you can buy my book.) The bookstore is dead, because physical copies of books are dead, as is all of literary fiction. The short story has died and been resuscitated more times than I can count. Poetry? Haha, don't make me laugh. Newspapers are dead. News is dead. Everything is dead, or on its way there.
Since Gott ist tot (God is dead) was written--as a lament for the end of a system of order, and a warning that humanity would slip into chaos--people have been predicting the next big dead thing, because alarmism (not dead just yet) gets attention. The end of western civilization was predicted. The end of capitalism. The end of the world. Whether or not we're convinced of the alarmist argument, we still can't turn away as the crazy guy marches by, shaking his placard, yelling, The end is nigh. And sure, this sort of argument can be entertaining, if only for the shock value, but I wonder, wasn't anyone listening when their parents read them Henny Penny? Quick reminder: If you run around yelling that the sky is falling, you end up with no head. (How's that for alarmist?)
From my point of view, when Y2K came and went, the tone of the eulogies changed. We, along with our computers, survived the big switch from three nines to three zeros--kachunk, like the dials on an alarm clock(RIP) flipping over--and we woke up and the world was a new place, a modern place, and we did not have time to waste.
Now, there seems always to be something better that we could be doing.* Because of that, our eulogies switched from alarmism to trend prediction. And we're all interested in reading these predictions because nobody wants to be the last person doing something.
This leaves me with the bad feeling that sounding the death knell for a particular thing is all just a lot of taste-arbiting, a popularity contest. You're wearing pink? Pink is dead. No one wears pink anymore. When someone tells you that journalism is dead, or photography, or the symphony, are you more or less likely to want to be involved with those particular things? If you are human, and you are telling the truth, I'm guessing you'd have some reservations you didn't have before you heard the bell toll. But we need to think about where these dire pronouncements are coming from. If Twitter told you that Facebook was dead, or vice versa, you might think twice about believing it. Sometimes, too, I think it's less that ___________ is dead, and more _________, you're dead to me. Whatever it is that once was loved and known intimately has changed so much that it can't be recognized anymore, and so have the original feelings. That doesn't mean there aren't whole lifetimes of interest and new feelings to be had by others.
Also, writing a great obituary is an art--a brief reflection on a life-lived (hopefully) well and long, weaving together the touchstones of accomplishment, family, love, joy, sometimes tragedy, and always, inevitably, loss. Certainly, an obituary is more than Jim is dead. Once alive, now not. Oh, and if you're interested, here's how we know he's dead. All these eulogies seem intent on predicting and proving the death, and spend little to no time celebrating the good of the life.
Eventually, everything dies (or changes so much that we have a hard time recognizing its attachment to the original). But it doesn't matter. We didn't stop living and enjoying our lives when we found out that at the end of it was death. So, if you love bookstores, support the ones that are left. Love poetry? Read and write it. Go ahead and post that status update on Facebook while it's there to enjoy. Who cares if it's dying? You are too.
*Do you doubt me? Take a look around the next time you're at a restaurant. How many of the people (including you, maybe?) are with a friend or a loved one, but also have their phones on the table so they can keep track of the other people in the world that want their attention?
Erin Bedford, writer.