May 21, 2008, 07:12AM

Death and the Digital Age

Guess we should have seen this coming.

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Updates today: six car accidents, three suicides, two overdoses, five murders, and one illness. Okay, to be fair, one of those murders was an accidental shooting, but close enough, right? Anyway, this should be good; most of them were younger than me. This is always how I start my day: Take a shower, make some coffee, check my email, then read through my online news sources, of which MyDeathSpace is always first.

I admit it: I'm an addict. No, I haven't bought the t-shirt (yet), but I read MyDeathSpace the way businessmen read The Wall Street Journal. I'm not sure why exactly, but I'm not the only one. It has to be admitted, of course, that there is a particularly American fascination with death—or more so murder, I guess. It's not just Hollywood movies, it's not just CourtTV or Law and Order or City Confidential… I could go on and on. Murder is all over the news. Hell, it pretty much is the news. What was it Nathanael West said? "In America violence is idiomatic. Take this morning's newspaper: FATHER CUTS SON'S THROAT IN BASEBALL ARGUMENT. To make the front page he should have killed three sons with a baseball bat instead of a knife." He was right. We love stories like that, because we can't account for them. Take an article that was on MyDeathSpace two or three days ago: "Morgan Leppert (15) and Toby Lowry (22) beat, stabbed, and suffocated a disabled man to death." Now, I'd bet that you just said two things: "Oh my God!" and then, "I've gotta read that." That's what everyone says. And when you have read it, well, there's nothing to say. You just go about your day.

But MyDeathSpace doesn't just give you the news article; it links you to the MySpace profile. And really I can't explain why I'll spend 10 minutes looking at photos and reading the About Me of someone I've never met and (now) never will. Maybe because I've never known anyone who's died (except for grandparents, and that doesn't really count, now does it), and to see so many 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds dead, it sure makes me think which of my friends will die first. Ah, it'll probably be me; can't get away with two packs a day of Pall Mall unfiltered for very long. (It's okay though, my friend Jen and I have a pact: If I die first, she has to post me, and vice-versa.) Not to mention, it's fascinating how much information we make public, available to anyone with a MySpace or a Facebook or a LiveJournal. Ten years ago we couldn't do that. Now it's as if we want everyone to know everything about us: what our favorite music is, what books we're reading, what we did today. And, okay, I'll be honest, when I die I hope someone I don't know laughs at those photos of me in drag (God, was I drunk). But really, probably no one will even look. It seems like the more information we make public, the less anyone cares. This morning, I read the MySpace blog of a 19-year-old girl who hung herself about a month ago. Half of the posts were about how damn lonely and confused she always felt. But from what her friends wrote I don't think any of them saw it coming. Really? Because I got it pretty fast.

Now if you read MyDeathSpace for more than three or four days, you'll start to skim past all the car accidents (by far the most frequent cause of death). In fact, I've been reading MyDeathSpace for about a year now and I've decided that 15-to-25-year-olds shouldn't even be driving cars, or riding in cars—shit, they shouldn't be anywhere near roads. And then there're the drugs.

Christ, after reading that, I don't even want to smoke pot anymore. Then again, what a way to go. Dignified? Well, no. But definitely crazy. I've already IMed that link five times. I mean, I've read MyDeathSpace for so long now that if it's not something like "Died after shooting up a bag of heroin in a KFC restroom," well, then I just don't care. Like Leslie Nielsen said: "A parachute not opening, that's a way to die. Getting caught in the gears of a combine; having your nuts bit off by a Laplander, that's the way I wanna go." Yeah, that's right, I just quoted The Naked Gun.

Lately I've even been Googling things like "teen accident killed" just so I could find someone who hasn't been posted yet. It's kind of a hobby. Some collect stamps, some play mahjong. I find submissions for MyDeathSpace. The process is pretty simple: Google will turn up a link like this. (Poor girl.)

Do a MySpace search for the name. If there's a matching profile, then submit it on MyDeathSpace (search the archives first). Come on, you know it sounds fun. Give it a try

  • my addiction is pretty similar to yours!! eek!!! except i don't have friends that share the addiction :( i want to get posted when i die, as well. but i don't want pictures of me on my site saying 'RIP'.. i hate those. is that bad?

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  • p.s. i searched for you and couldn't find you on myspace!

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  • I'm glad I'm not part of this skeezy "addiction." It could be worse, I suppose, like reading celebrity websites and magazines, or being Hillary Clinton volunteer, but what a stupid waste of time.

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  • exkissoh - http://profile.myspace.com/218319930

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  • I'm an addict, too! I really can't get enough of it.

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  • Maybe it's a generational phenomenon--I'm 28 and generations today are measured in 5-year spans--but I'm at a loss at how the author, who quotes the great Nathanael West, can waste his time on this garbage. Could be it's similar to people rubber-necking on a highway when there's a car crash, but that's happenstance. And maybe Zach Kaufman's "addiction" is no more time-wasting than obsessively following the presidential campaign, or playing video games, but this seems to me kind of pathetic. Maybe his next article will be about the dozens of betting pools that have undoubtedly started predicting the date that Senator Kennedy dies.

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  • Whenever I read it, I end up feeling paranoid.

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  • tomtom, hoop: maybe get addicted to something else, like a job, instead of looking at this trash.

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  • sourpuss: i work 40 hours a week and go to school. i still have time to look @ this site. :)

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  • exkissoh: I also work a full week (but don't go to school), and still don't get the attraction of this site. I've tried, but it's not "fun." To each his own, but man, the regular news is ghoulish enough.

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