A Digital Death

A digital friend died yesterday. Someone I've known for quite some time (in Internet years) and with whom I spent many hours discussing philosophy and religion and power politics and writing and a thousand other topics signed off yesterday at 18:04 on 18.04 - that is surely intentional on his part. He had announced his impending suicide since at least December of last year, and as I came to realize that this was not just a typical cynical joke on his part, I spent more and more time trying to persuade him to get help. Or maybe it was indeed all an elaborate joke on me, who knows.

Because for someone that I only know digitally, I can't tell the difference between a digital death and a physical one. Someone who only uses a "nick" online and is very careful - as my friend was - to not disclose identifying details, essentially dies online when the nick is no longer used.

I have made many digital friends over the years - my first contact with the Usenet was in 1991. Some people I never met. Some people I did meet. For many, the contact drifted off as we wrote each other more and more seldom. One friend calls occasionally, out of the blue, and we speak for a while. He sometimes writes comments on this blog (Hi Tex!). We even met once IRL, "in real life", as it is called. Some people I have not only met IRL but we are good friends to this day.

So what's the difference with yesterday? We could have just had a blistering fight and my friend stormed out of the chat room, never to return. He's done that before, and returned. Well, I tried contacting his email account this morning - and got an immediate delivery failure. Okay, stuff like that happens. But the seriousness of his discussions these past weeks, and his descriptions of what exactly he was planning, worked out to the last detail give me cause to worry.

I have a strange sense that this is not a joke, but indeed a death both digital and physical. Rest in peace, my friend. I miss you.

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