“Disconnected Pen” by Noah Wunsch, NYC

Connected October 16, 2011 04:29

topic: CONNECTED medium: TEXT
Liesl Schillinger, of the New York Times Book Review, had this to say about “Disconnected Pen”:
This is a great subject, and a low-key but powerful demonstration of how 21st -century communication technologies are changing the way people live—and die— before any of us has had the time to process what these new kinds of interaction mean emotionally. It’s a brand-new 21st-century form of haunting to have a friend or loved one die; but to watch that friend’s life continue on Facebook, where mourners post posthumous comments in a kind of neverending digital séance. In this story, Noah Wunsch communicates the eeriness of the 21st century memento mori, when a 22-year old finds out about the death of a schoolfriend via social media. I like his portrayal of Manhattan adolescence, of premature sophistication that doesn’t overcome typical boyhood insecurities.

One of the Winners of the “Connected” Contest

 Ella

Rest In Peace Matt W. You will be gr eatly missed.

Monday at 5:40pm via Facebook Mobile · Like Unlike ·Comment

This is posted at the top of my Facebook news-feed on August 15th, 2011. I’m 22 years
old. I wonder what kind of weird viral prank this is, some new “it” thing to do on the
internet, like planking or memes: RIPing. I go to Matt’s Facebook page.

Max

RIP

Liz

RIP MATT We will all miss you! I love you.

This seems overly sentimental. I search for my friend Alec. “Send a Message.”

Noah: This is kind of a random, morbid question, but is everything okay with Matt?

I met Matt when I was transferring from Grace Church to Riverdale in 8th grade. It
was at his house that I met the kids that would make up my group of friends for the
next four years. His apartment was like nothing I had ever seen. I tried masking my
awe, as the kids around me seemed bored by it all, especially Matt, who seemed to
want to escape the confines of this ongoing Mecca. He seemed trapped by it. Too
much “more.”

I knew Matt in the way all high school boys know each other. Surface. High school
anywhere in the world is a time when boys are taught to put their guard up. Taught that
men are strong. They’re John Wayne, hard and stubborn. Surrounded by excess the
struggle is exponential, because there’s “nothing to be sad about,” but no one’s truly
showing you the way. They’re shredded underneath it all.

The night would either end or begin at Matt’s house. In school we’d have our lunch
table, everyone vying for the groups attention. Matt would wait for someone to start a
conversation and try commanding it from there, often unsuccessfully, finally shouting
for the group to shut up so he could say his part.

The teasing started before I got to Riverdale, and only worsened over the years. The
guys in the group were merciless, finding the one black button flaw in an individual
and pressing it until the color faded to a burnt out gray. Jack came prematurely. Travis’
failing out. Matt’s fat. He was. So he started doing something about it. He was seeing
a trainer and eating healthier, but that couldn’t belie the considerable pounds he was
shedding. Matt was doing blow. I never saw him do it, but kids talked about it, and
in senior year when it was the cool thing to do, he flaunted it. I was becoming more
aware of how fucked up we all acted towards each other and had started distancing
myself from the group. After graduation I lost touch with Matt, but when I saw Alec or
Mo they’d tell me he wasn’t doing well.

Alec: He OD’d within the last couple of days. I don’t know all of the details, but really
terrible info. I’m literally stumped for words.

It’s August 15th, 2011. I’m 22 years old and it’s the first time someone my age, that I
really knew, has died. I find out from a Facebook post.

A few hours have passed, I check Matt’s Facebook profile again. It feels eerie that it’s
still up. That people are still writing on it. Someone has posthumously tagged him in
photos from 2010. In the pictures he’s dressed in white slacks, a red button down and a
plain white mask. The buttons on his shirt are undone three too many and he’s visibly
sweating behind the blank stare of the mask. The photos feel threatening, as if the
person who tagged them is saying that he got what was coming. Through Facebook I’m
somehow having a conversation with a dead friend, and the stranger who tagged him in
these photos.

The next day I’m back on Matt’s Facebook page. His little brother has posted a
comment.

Stu

i love you more than you could possibly know. RIP. I will never for get you.

Rory likes this.

There are two comments below the post. “RIP brotha!” “You were such an amazing
person with such a big heart.” It seems insensitive to post these comments under his
little brothers, like all of us vying for attention at the high school lunch table. The
guys I went to high school with have all posted the info for Matt’s funeral service on
their facebook walls, inviting all who knew Matt to come. I’m in Amsterdam, so am
unable to attend. This distance makes the event feel more vacuous. The only person
to discuss it with is Facebook. I can listen to Facebook. Talk to it. But the responses all
feel superficial.

I’m at a loss how to grasp all of this. It all seems too public. People “liking” RIP posts,
commenting on them. There’s no touch. No warmth. There’s 12 pt. Helvetica on a
sterile white background, with a profile picture next to it of some girl making a kissy
face, or a shirtless guy chugging a beer. This might not be the loss of our humanity,
but it sure feels like a step in that direction. The only thought connected to a tweet is
how to condense your sentiment into 140 characters… With heart. It’s the first time in
my life that I’ve had to truly deal with death and it makes me feel like it firmly puts a
clock on things. I’m just wondering how long it will be before that clock is integrated
into my Facebook profile.

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