Suicide Booth Recording: You are now dead. Thank you for using Stop and Drop, America's favorite Suicide Booth since 2008.
—Futurama, “Space Pilot 3000” (3/28/99)
Fair Warning: this is going to be kind of a rambling post. If you make it to the end, Congratulations! and thanks.
The Internet in its present form has been around for awhile, now. We’re at the point where college-age people don’t remember a time when there wasn’t some form of “being online.” Being a little older than that, I do remember those dark days. These kids today, they have no idea where stuff like “LOL” came from. They don’t know where stuff like 🙂 or :-/ or :-O came from. It came from US, kids! We didn’t invent these things (most of them date to the 70s and 80s), but we certainly brought them into wide use.
In the early 1990s, there were three major ways to access the Internet. Even then, it wasn’t the same thing by a long shot. But your choices were pretty much Prodigy, CompuServe and America Online. After a couple of years, AOL was pretty much the only game in town. One of America Online’s big draws was something called the “Chat Room”, a virtual space in which like-minded people could gather and communicate via text in real time. Boy oh boy, those were the days. We made all kinds of friends across the nation and even had ourselves a couple of parties which were practically weekend-long bacchanalias.
As the Internet became more of a presence and the need for something like AOL began to fade into the background, many of us jumped over to the IRC, which stands for Internet Relay Chat. The IRC (yeah, I know that “the” doesn’t really belong there, but that’s how we say it) gave us a lot more control over the spaces: we could give superpowers to some people, ban the trolls, and best of all the rooms were of infinite size, unlike the AOL rooms, which were limited to the strange number of 23 participants. The IRC is supposedly still a pretty big deal but I don’t think that it’s still the social center that it was in the late 90s.
The problem with the AOL Chat Rooms and the IRC channels was the drama. Oh my god, the drama. The incestuousness and the drama. And I am the first to admit that I was easily sucked into it. I’m not going to get into the details, because it’s a long story and I come out kind of bad in some parts of it. But I did learn some valuable lessons, the biggest of which is not to get too involved in the lives of people I meet online.
Which brings me into the recent past.
My more recent participation with online communities has been largely through blogs and online forums. For awhile I was heavily into Television Without Pity (in the days before Bravo took over), and I was a frequent commenter on other blogs when this one was in its infancy, six years ago. You may see me from time to time commenting in the Baltimore Sun’s blogs, although I don’t comment on “Inside Ed” anymore. And I spend some time on The Viewscreen to maintain my nerd cred. And, of course, Facebook. But here’s the thing: because of all I’d been through ten years earlier, my interactions on the forums have been more limited, my comments a little more guarded, my details a little more private. So while there were some really tight communities going on out there, and while my presence is usually acknowledged, more often than not I’m not one of the “in” crowd over there. And in general that’s fine by me.
In the more recent past:
As I mentioned above, I spent some time on Television Without Pity in their forums. I participated in the forums for Survivor, Trading Spaces, Joan of Arcadia, Numb3rs and a couple of others, but I definitely spent the most time in The West Wing. I spent enough time in there that when a get-together was proposed to take place in Washington, DC, I threw caution to the wind and actually attended that weekend. I didn’t stay in the hotel; I was a commuter each day. During the day, we’d tour Our Nation’s Capitol and by night we’d hang out in the hotel suite and play games or just chitchat, with the TV constantly playing episodes of The West Wing and Sports Night. And it did have some effect on the stuff that we put into our TWOP posts in the forum, and the information that we shared with one another. But in the long run I still held back somewhat.
Then The West Wing ended, and few of us had another show in common, so the forum dissolved, and while some people managed to keep in touch with one another, I did not. I certainly missed that bunch, but it was time to move on and all that.
In the quite recent past:
So I re-discovered a few of the folks from the TWOP West Wing forum on Facebook, and I put in a couple of friend requests. I was starting to re-connect with that crowd, a little bit. However, one of the people didn’t accept my request, and I don’t know if they ever looked at it.
Earlier this week, one, and then another, of my FB friends from that bunch posted something about the person who didn’t accept my request. It was a generic “so long, we’ll miss you” kind of post, and it left me a little confused. I asked one of them what was going on but got no reply. Then another friend posted some extra information: she had died; what’s more, she’d committed suicide.
You know, I’ve been depressed before. I’m sure we all have, at one time or another. When I was going through this (this was almost 20 years ago), I used to think very clinical, detached thoughts about what might happen if I just took my hands off the steering wheel. But there was always something in me that wanted me to keep climbing the tree, keep checking out the view. As long as there’s tree, I’ll be climbing. So I never let go of that wheel. I’m feeling better now, thanks.
So despite having had that level of thought, I still don’t quite understand the suicidal mind. I know that, statistically, I have more days behind me than ahead, and the idea that I’m going to die someday has me pretty pissed off. I’m not looking for immortality, but I wouldn’t complain too loudly if we were allowed a lot more time, plus the option to just voluntarily discorporate when we decide “OK, that’s enough of that, now.”
Many of the famous people who commit suicide, I’ve noticed, have certain creative sparks that the rest of us don’t. In the land of Rock & Roll, that would include Kurt Cobain, Michael Hutchence and Ian Curtis. (One could make an argument for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Keith Moon, but let’s not quibble just now.) In literature, you’ve got Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Hunter S. Thompson and Spalding Gray. In science you have Alan Turing, George Eastman and Edwin Armstrong. There are many others, but I think you can see the pattern, here. All of these folks were very smart and very creative and they also had some serious neuroses going on, enough to fry the wiring in their heads.
These are people who had some resources available to them, and they still went this extreme route. What chance do we have, the ordinary schmucks who also have some neuroses going on? I think this is the thing that infuriates me when someone famous chooses to end their life; their action tends to romanticize it for someone else.
So someone who’s been in my life is gone from it forever, by their own hand. Could I have intervened if I’d retained my original level of involvement with that crowd? Would I have noticed the warning signs? Some who knew her better speculate that they probably wouldn’t have noticed because of this person’s public persona, but one never knows, I guess. In the meantime, I’m still up in my tree and still climbing.