Why We Mourn For Strangers

The death of Matthew Perry made me reflect on my emotional response to a stranger’s passing. I found intriguing research that explores the psychological concept of parasocial relationships and cybermourning to help me understand why I experience a sensation of loss when an entertainer’s final curtain is lowered. 

Using thematic analysis, the researcher studied 1,299 condolences posted on the obituary website Legacy.com to come up with themes that opened the window to cybermourning and parasocial relationships on the night worldly-famous comedian and actor Robin Williams hanged himself, August, 11, 2014. In addition to the themes that emerged, loss, appreciation and celebration, the study revealed that a majority of cybermourners had developed a deep parasocial relationship with Williams and viewed him as more than a comedian. They saw him as a close friend or relative who had died. The deeply emotional posts outnumbered two to one the posts from cybermourners whose condolences were respectful, short and generic. Fans also shared intimate life struggles associated with drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness with their virtual “close” friend Williams who was also struggling with the same demons. This paper discusses cybermourning, parasocial relationships and the pros and cons of such online relationships.

Make sure to read the full paper titled More than a Comedian: Exploring Cybermourning and Parasocial Relationships the Night Hollywood Star Robin Williams Died by Kim Smith at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3078704

On October 28, 2023 news broke about the passing of television actor and “Friends” star Matthew Perry. The Hollywood Reporter described his passing feels like “when a Beatle dies”. Perry struggled with alcoholism his entire career and he was outspoken about mental health. I can’t remember when I first watched the show Friends. When I watched it, I never reached a level of binge-watching episode after episode. Yet the writers delivered a storyline so universally applicable that we, as the audience, really bought into a group of friends just trying to grow up and find their place in this ever-expanding world. It was my story. It was your story. It was our story. 

Perry’s passing reminded me of the deaths of other celebrities: Steve Jobs, Anthony Bourdain, Chester Bennington, Sean Connery, Paul Walker, Carrie Fisher, Kirstie Alley, Betty White, and many more. But perhaps most notable among them is Robin Williams. The paper starts by explaining the concept of cybermourning as a process to take grief to social media and immortalize it in cyberspace. Facebook will become a place where more deceased than alive profiles make up their account statistics. Websites like legacy.com offer a last farewell that can be revisited at all times. It is a collective experience as others are allowed to share their condolences. The concept of our human response to death itself is complex. Mankind has always mourned the passing of one of us. Mourning can be described as an elevated emotional grief induced by the outside event of the passing of a loved one. It does help to reunite those left behind, but it also serves as a healing period. On the other hand, parasocial relationships are a concept almost entirely tied to the onset of audiovisual communication technology, e.g. cinema, television, and streaming. It describes the identification of the viewer with the portrayed character. People seek out similarities, similar behaviors, and other personality traits. In extreme cases, people want to be that person (even when they know it is a fictional character that only exists in a Hollywood storyline). The internet and relentless news coverage impact the intensity of a parasocial relationship. 

Against this backdrop, the author designed two research questions to study the public’s emotional response when actor Robin Williams died. 

  1. What themes explain how cybermourners mourned the night Williams died?
  2. What happened to cybermourners who developed parasocial relationships with Williams?

The research reviewed 1,299 responses posted to the obituary page of Robin Williams on legacy.com. His page continues to receive postings to this day. They identified three themes among the posts: loss, appreciation, and celebration. Most strikingly, they found people had developed a near-intimate relationship with Robin Williams because of the shared emotional struggles, alcoholism, and humor that get us through the day. The internet’s permanent access and appearance of a “personal space” that lives on our computers or in our phones lowered inhibitions to share fears, secret desires, and vulnerable emotions associated with the career of Robin Williams.  

Early psychological research suggested these types of parasocial relationships are linked to fears, isolation, and diminished social experiences. More recent research, however, found that parasocial relationships, and their natural end, may invoke cathartic effects that help people to develop a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. Cybermourning can provide a therapeutic relief that is shared by thousands or millions of others online. Therefore it can neutralize the experience of grief and sadness that commonly occur with learning about someone’s death. Lastly, it can raise awareness of the universal human struggle that we all experience – from addiction to mental health. 

Matthew Perry playing Chandler on Friends helped millions of non-English speakers to learn English. The show introduced everyday cultural norms, although exaggerated, to an audience unfamiliar with American customs and traditions. This helped shape the social fabric of the United States. Anyone lucky to watch Friends during their late teenage years may look back fondly on the curiosity that surrounded social experiences, your first relationship, your first disagreement, your first job loss, your first financial struggle, and all these other experiences that we all universally endure and overcome. 

Perhaps learning about Chandler’s passing made me reflect on my mortality and how fleeting this experience that we call life really is (loss). It is a stark reminder of the importance of healthy relationships, compassion, and compromise (appreciation) – but really that these things are worth working for because they are so rare and the cast of Friends made us whole showing us that (celebration).   

The Year Of Blue Water

Young writer and critic Yani debuts with a prose compendium reminiscent of the old adage “poetry is a reflection of our times” or something along those lines. 

When I think of American Poetry, I think of Walt Whitman. His work is characterized by its celebration of the human spirit, optimism, and sense of wonder about the world. I think of Frank O’Hara whose work centers around taking delight in the ordinary moments of existence. And, of course, I think of Ralph Waldo Emerson whose work emphasizes the inherent goodness of people and nature, as well as the importance of self-reliance, individualism, and the celebration of the individual spirit. 

Yani’s The Year of Blue Water resembles a different kind of American Poetry. At times, its prose seems to explore writing elements that are as raw as Charles Bukowski’s. While it is unfiltered it feels rather fragile instead. In other areas, its ideas seem to venture into the style of T.S. Eliot – equally torn between spiritual and moral questions, time and memory. For example: 

My mother tells me something. Has she been lonely? There was so much I couldn’t see as a child. And then it was too much to try and save her, to help her feel better and feel a little less lonely. I felt like I failed at loving her.[…]

Much of the reflections in this collection are about race, identity, gender, and mental well-being. Unlike poetry from long bygone days, this work demonstrates the seismic shift that we as a people experience in America because of the conveniences modern technology has afforded us. It reminded me of another adage “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times” that originated from “Those Who Remain.” So, if poetry is a reflection of our times then we might have become a little weaker, but I also like to believe that strength comes from taking ownership of our weaknesses, and, by all accounts “The Year of Blue Water” does exactly that. 

Can Elon Musk Turn “X” Into Humanity’s Collective Consciousness? 

What is the end goal of “X” formerly known as Twitter? A recent article about a cryptic tweet by Elon Musk tries to make a case for a platform that centralizes mankind’s shared cultural beliefs and values, and, the authors argue that it will not be “X”. 

On August 18th, 2023, a thought-provoking tweet by the visionary entrepreneur, Elon Musk – owner of “X” (formerly known as Twitter), set the stage for public contemplation and attention. That tweet forms the basis of this article which examines the captivating ideas that have sprung from that fateful Friday tweet.

Make sure to read the full article titled Does X Truly Represent Humanity’s Collective Consciousness? by Obinnaya Agbo, Dara Ita, and Temitope Akinsanmi at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4558476


The authors focus the article on a post by Elon Musk that reads: “𝕏 as humanity’s collective consciousness”. They start defining the term humanity’s collective consciousness with a historical review of the works of French sociologist Emile Durkheim and Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Those works responded to industrialization, which influenced contemporary viewpoints and connected collective consciousness to labor. The authors define it as “shared beliefs, values, attitudes, ideas, and knowledge that exist within a particular group or society. It is the sum of an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences of people within a group, which combine to create a common understanding of the world, social norms, and cultural identity. It is also the idea that individuals within a society are not only influenced by their own thoughts and experiences but also by broader cultural and societal trends.” The authors continue to review a possible motive for Elon Musk. They refer to the name change earlier this year from Twitter to “X, the everything app”. Elon Musk defended the decision by providing the scope planned for “X”. He stated Twitter was a means for bidirectional communication in 140 characters or less – and nothing more. “X” on the other hand allows different types of content, at varying levels of length, and it plans to allow users “to conduct your entire financial world” on “X”, implying similar features as WeChat. The authors interpret Elon Musk’s statements as “X” becoming a mirror for the world’s thoughts, believes and values at any given point in time. The authors continue to review comments and reactions from users concluding humanity’s collective consciousness must be free from censorship and oppression. Moreover, it requires digitization of human content, which in and of itself is a challenge considering the influence of artificial intelligence over human beliefs and values. This leads the authors to explore spiritual and religious motives asking “Does Elon Musk intend X to play the role of God”? They then ask the true question “Can X achieve to truly influence cultural norms and traditions” but conclude it to be a mere means to an end of humanity’s collective consciousness.       


At first glance, this article is missing a crucial comparison to other platforms. The elephant in the room is, of course, Facebook with more than 3 billion monthly active users. WhatsApp is believed to be used by more than 2.7 billion monthly active users. And Instagram is home to approximately 1.35 billion users. This makes their owner and operator, Meta Platforms, the host for more than 7 billion users (assuming the unlikely scenario that each platform has unique users). “X” by contrast is host to around 500 million monthly active users. Any exploration that concerns a social network or platform could become or aims to be humanity’s collective consciousness must draw a comparison.

The authors do conduct a historical comparison between “X’s” role in shaping social movements, revolutions, and cultural shifts and the Enlightenment Era and the Civil Rights Movement. They correctly identify modern communication as being more fluid and impacted by dynamic technologies allowing users to form collective identities based on shared interests, beliefs, or experiences. Arguably, the Enlightenment era and the Civil Rights Movement were driven by a few, select groups. In contrast, modern movements experience crossover identities supporting movements across the globe and independent of cultural identity as demonstrated in the Arab Spring of 2011, the Gezi Park Protests of 2013, or Black Lives Matter. It can be interpreted that humanity’s collective consciousness is indeed influenced by social networks, but the critical miss, again, is the direct connection to “X”. Twitter did assume an influential role during the aforementioned movements. But would they have played out the way they did – soley on Twitter – without Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social networks?  

The authors make a point about “X’s” real-time relevance arguing information spreads on “X” like wildfire often breaking news stories before traditional media outlets. However, the changes to the “X” recommendation algorithm, the introduction of paid premium subscriptions, and some controversial reinstatements of accounts that were found to spread misinformation and hate speech have made “X” bleed critical users, specifically journalists, reporters, and media enthusiasts. 

Lastly, the authors conclude that “X” has evolved from a microblogging platform to an everything app. They state it has become a central place for humanity’s collective consciousness. Nothing could be further from the truth. To date, “X” has yet to introduce products and features to manage finances, search the internet, plan and book travel or simply maintain uptime and mitigate bugs. Users can’t buy products on “X” nor manage their health, public service, and utilities. WeChat offers these products and features and it doesn’t make a claim to be humanity’s collective consciousness.


A far more interesting question around social networks and collective consciousness is the impact of generative artificial intelligence on humanity. While the authors of this article believed a (single) social network could become humanity’s collective consciousness, it is more likely that the compounding effect of information created and curated by algorithms is already becoming if not overriding humanity’s collective consciousness. Will it reach a point, at which machine intelligence will become self-aware, independent of its human creators, and actively influence humanity’s collective consciousness to achieve (technological) singularity

Memento Mori

Meditations is an afternoon conversation with a ruler of the Roman Empire: intimate, ethical, and full of wisdom. 

Timeless is another adjective to describe this translated compendium of the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius. Gregory Hays, associate professor of classics at the University of Virginia, translated the delivered writings of Aurelius in the most concise, clear manner available without diluting its original tone. Hays recommends that the reader familiarizes themself not only with Stoicism but also with the underlying role of philosophy in ancient life. While Meditations isn’t really a meditation per se, I found myself in agreement with Hays. Aurelius created his works throughout the course of his life. It’s nearly perfectly detached from historical events. And it overwhelmingly omits names and locations of Aurelius’ present time. Grasping the full context almost mandates an ancient philosophy deep dive as a prerequisite to reading Meditations. 

From the beginning, it becomes clear that Aurelius’ main theme revolves around: (1) the present moment and (2) death. These two main themes reoccur more often than others which gives Meditations a melancholy with urgency. It is almost as if Aurelius saw human suffering, experienced pain for himself, and took to the paper to find the means to cope with it. Hays writes in his introduction on the book of Marcus:  

“If you desire to master pain
Unroll this book and read with care,
And in it find abundantly
A knowledge of the things that are,
Those that have been, and those to come.
And know as well that joy and grief
Are nothing more than empty smoke.”

Philosophy is art. Perhaps you can classify it as an art of life. This makes it futile to investigate patterns or factual statements. For it is up to the reader to interpret and extrapolate meaning. Meditations does that like no other book I’ve read recently. Its concise, to-the-point paragraphs offer a situation, an interpretation, and a solution. For example

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

Book 2.11

These two sentences convey a powerful urgency hard to emulate with inspirational, motivational, or modern hustle-porn content. Yet it was written 200 decades ago. It makes me want to drop writing this post and return to the important things in my life. But Aurelius doesn’t stop at mere urgency. He connects it with the interpretation of time and that we, as humans, are often overly obsessed with what was or what will be despite having zero power over either. In his words: 

“Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see. The span we live is small–small as the corner of the earth in which we live it. Small as even the greatest renown, passed from mouth to mouth by short-lived stick figures, ignorant alike of themselves and those long dead.” 

Book 3.10

As we live our lives in our corners, I often observe the indescribable urge to compare with others of similar lifestyles, circumstances, and heritage. It’s a natural urge and nothing worthy to suppress, but the act of comparing is the thief of joy. Aurelius learned this throughout his life and condensed it into:

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”

—Book 5.16

It’s a call to set your mind free from comparison or worry about what others may think. It directly ties back into his two main themes: the present moment and death. Lastly, I found this short list of remembrance to be powerful and worthy to mention here, so I can come back and reread it when I need to have clarity in life: 

Matter. How tiny your share of it.
Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it.
Fate. How small a role you play in it.”

—Book 5.24