It’s either a sad commentary on the human condition or a mere sign of the times -– or, more likely, an abstract hybrid — that we grieved the loss of sugar-filled cakes and a computer inventor more than anything in the past year or so.
How do I know this? Facebook and Twitter tell me so. And yes, it’s probably also a regrettable sign of the times – and an irony that isn’t lost on me — that I am using social media as a thermometer of the human condition.
But the reality is, it’s probably the most accurate indicator out there.
So as I look back at some of the events that shaped the past 12 months or so, two specific incidents stand out: The deaths of Twinkies and Apple founder Steve Jobs. Neither event particularly affected me, but apparently I am in the minority.
That’s because, everywhere else, people grieved. When it was recently announced that Hostess was going out of business, scores of people used social media to express their grief for the cream-filled concoctions that served as the basis for many jokes about fat kids, and made many kids fat.
You ran down to 7-11 to grab the last couple of packets of Twinkies or other favorite Hostess treat off the shelves. You then took photos of them with your iPhone – more on those later – and posted said images on Facebook, along with a heartfelt anecdote about how these tasty cakes influenced your life.
I just realized the other day the minor impact the Hostess shutdown will have on my life. I almost forgot they make the 100-calorie coffee cakes I’ve enjoyed devouring for the past couple of years.
In fact, those cakes, a Greek yogurt and a cup of coffee have been my regular breakfast for a while now. So apparently I’ll have to adjust but, based on the outpouring of Hostess tributes that flowed through the cyber world, you’d think we were facing a change of much greater significance.
The whole thing struck me as a little sad. I couldn’t help but imagine what if all the Twinkie grievers had spent the same amount of time and energy in their day reaching out to someone who would have been glad to hear from them.
Instead of that Facebook post about how much you’ll miss chowing down a Ho-Ho with lunch every day, why not reach out to a friend who might, possibly, need a friend? You know, the one who is struggling to find a job, or the one who is having trouble in a relationship.
I’m sure there are people who balance such gestures, and I’d like to think I’m one of them. I’m not saying it’s a crime to use social media to things other than save the world or be a good friend, and to a certain degree we all use these outlets for self-serving purposes.
I’m not above posting links to my articles and blogs on Facebook and Twitter – that’s practically what they are there for, and I’m always grateful for any feedback I get from using these forums to reach an audience.
But I’d also like to believe I spend the same amount of time, if not more, making first contact with people I haven’t been in touch with for a while, or commenting and “liking” the triumphs and accomplishments of my friends and their families.
However, when it comes to public displays of grief, excitement or awe, sometimes I think we need some perspective. My most recent example relates to how we, as a society, reacted to the death of the guy who helped make posting such sentiments so easy – Apple founder Steve Jobs.
When he passed in October of last year, the depth of our collective response seemed to rival that of the world losing someone like Mother Teresa or Gandhi. Some people made the Apple logo their Facebook avatar, and posted blogs and blurbs about how profound an impact Jobs has made in their lives.
Well, OK. There’s no doubt Jobs was a monumental visionary in the high-tech world in which we live today. Full disclosure: I own two iPods and an iPad, so I’m not immune from enjoying the benefits of the gadgets he created.
Even so, Steve Jobs didn’t cure cancer, help stop worldwide hunger or resolve conflicts in the Middle East. He invented computers, and, yes, computers are cool. But collectively, we mourned his loss as if he accomplished something much, much more important.
I also think we need to start judging the legacy of the deceased with much more balance. Sure, Jobs was the gadget king. But by many accounts, he also was a self-important snob who wouldn’t even write the foreword of the book for the guy who was his co-founder and former best friend.
I’m not saying this dooms him to hell or negates the contribution he made to technology, — I just say let’s look at the whole picture before deciding whether to shed some tears.
I respect Jobs but I don’t grieve him, and I guess that’s the key difference. I can say I intend to grieve the impending loss of my 9-year-old cat who, even in her dying days as she battles cancer, still found the strength the other day to jump on the back of the couch so she could lick the back of my head after she knew I had a bad day.
I’m a very private person when it comes to love and loss, but I reckon the passing of Little Grey will warrant one of the few public tributes I’ll make to something that matters to me.
No offense, but the passing of Steve Jobs and Twinkies doesn’t make the cut.