Grief & Our Digital Afterlives

“They say you actually have two deaths–the first, when you physically die and the second, when you socially die.”–Dr. Jocelyn DeGroot

DeGroot’s model of Transcorporeal Communication.

How do we experience grief in the advent of the digital age? Associate Professor and Assistant Chair in the Department of Applied Communication Studies, Dr. Jocelyn DeGroot, studies grief and how technologies impact our grieving process.

Thus far, only a handful of researchers have studied this particular facet of our digital world, making DeGroot’s research quite exploratory and of particular interest. In fact, DeGroot was recently interviewed for a PBS Nova Next article on grief and social media.

“They say you actually have two deaths–the first, when you physically die and the second, when you socially die–my research involves how people maintain bonds with the deceased,” stated Degroot, who has published numerous papers surrounding computer-mediated communication and communicative issues of death and dying.

Existing on a social platform  means that you leave behind a digital identity, or digital afterlife, and there are individuals who will inevitably continue to interact with that data long after you are gone. DeGroot’s research methods involve analyses pertaining to this kind of interaction.  She poses important questions like, “Does this type of interaction really help to process grief? It could, but we do not really know a whole lot about it yet,” said DeGroot, “It is probably fine as long as you are not completely reliant on it.”

So far, DeGroot’s research seems to indicate that this kind of interaction can easily crossover into being unhealthy fairly quickly, “Technology continues to evolve, we will see where it goes…”

Interested in various aspects of grief, DeGroot’s next area of study will be on focused on the primary, secondary, and tertiary forms of loss in relationships. This spring, she will also be teaching an integrated studies class on Death and Dying with Philosophy Professor, Erik Krag.

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