If you read this blog, you may also be familiar with 70s Music Mayhem, which examined the songs to debut on the Hot 100 in a given week of the 1970s. It must have taken a lot of time to research it, find YouTube links, and add buy links to Amazon and iTunes, but such labor isn’t really work if you love to do it. Chris Stufflestreet, the writer of 70s Music Mayhem, a companion site on the 80s, and a couple of other blogs about baseball card collecting, died last week of a heart attack. He was 39 years old. I might never have learned about his death were it not for an Internet accident. The news was posted in a comment on one of Chris’ baseball blogs; one of my Internet friends saw it, blogged about it, and tweeted the link. Had I not seen that, Chris would merely have been another one of those guys who disappeared from the Interwebs without explanation, leaving only a mystery behind.
When I first started blogging nearly 10 years ago, there was a lot of supercilious commentary about how the web was going to atomize us, turn us all into lonely people hammering away in solitude, never making personal, emotional connections with other human beings again. But what it’s really done is to create communities that might never have existed otherwise, communities that are just as real to the participants as if they met in hotel ballrooms, convention centers, or bars. (People passionate about both 70s music and baseball cards could meet in a very small room, but the Internet is as big, or as small, as it needs to be.) As we have noted here, electronic relationships sometimes cross over into what we used to call the real world—but the distinctions between real and virtual are being erased, and it’s these electronic communities that are erasing them.
Chris’ death reminds us that if we’re living on the Internet with a blog, a Facebook account, and/or a Twitter feed, we’ll be leaving something of ourselves behind when we go. The Facebook accounts of the deceased become living online memorials. Twitter feeds and blogs just stop. I’ve considered whether to write one last post for The Mrs. to put up here in the eventuality of my demise. I hate the idea of just disappearing from this site one day without an explanation, and I very much like the idea of gasbagging from beyond the grave.
(A few years ago, up late and feeling morose, I wrote my own eulogy, with the intention of having somebody read it at the memorial beer bash I’ll be having instead of a funeral. I later lost it in a computer crash, but I can still remember the first lines: “If you’re hearing this, I’m dead. Although the doctors and nurses who took care of me at the end may not have known everything there is to know about medicine, I’m pretty sure they recognize dead.”)
Chris commented on my blog and I commented on his; we were Facebook friends; he was in Florida and I’m up here in Wisconsin; we never met in person and might never have met in person. But I knew—as I know of my other Internet friends—that if I had a question only he could answer, he’d be happy to do so, just as I am happy to answer such questions myself.
Internet friends are often people we can count on, and what’s a true friend, if not that? We should probably stop using the phrase “Internet friends” altogether. Just the one word is enough.