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The internet is making public grieving acceptable again

Death in the modern era is once again a communal affair.

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Grieving used to be a public affair, but it was gradually suppressed in the 20th century as psychology made those outward displays socially unacceptable. Death and loss were things you were supposed to deal with privately. Well, public mourning is back -- and you largely have the internet to thank for it. As The Atlantic notes, the deaths of David Bowie and other famous artists in recent months (including Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey and Scott Weiland) have shown that social networks are quickly becoming mainstays of the grieving process. Those profile pages, mentions and hashtags enable a sort of connected wake, a place where everyone can share their fond memories with fellow sympathizers.

The concept isn't new, of course (the sites themselves have anticpated post-death needs for years), and it has its fair share of critics. After all, it takes just a few seconds to send your condolences. Unless people write detailed stories, it's hard to know whether they're genuinely sad or just paying a token amount of respect. There's certainly a case to be made for keeping some grief offline, since there are likely far fewer people who can relate to losing one of your close family members than there are for a rock star.

However, the rapid rise of internet-based mourning (especially in the past several weeks) suggests that people have wanted this public outlet for a while. It's just that technology and cultural norms have shifted enough to make it viable -- you can post that Twitter tribute or YouTube response knowing that there will be plenty of people who can see and share what you're going through. You probably won't see formal online grieving periods any time soon, but you also won't be left wondering if your friends and acquaintances miss a celebrity as much as you do.

[Image credit: Xinhua/Han Yan via Getty Images]

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