Barbarella
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I don’t know what it is, but it’s weird and pissed off. — from the movie The Thing (Kevin’s favorite quotation, according to his Facebook page)

One of my Facebook friends has logged off. For good. I use the term “Facebook friend” because he didn’t quite fit into my definition of “friend” or “acquaintance.” Friends are people you call or text on the phone. Acquaintances are those with whom you have a passing familiarity, someone whose name you know, whom you might run into and chat with at an event, but not a person with whom you keep in touch. With Facebook friends, you’re in constant contact — they know more about your day-to-day life than any real-life friend (who’s not also on Facebook).

I’d met Kevin in person, once. He let me play with his iPad while sitting at the bar at Ono Sushi. We knew of each other through mutual friends, and I’d been to a few of his Comic-Con parties. But it was only after I added him on Facebook that I began to learn more about the man: where he went to high school and that he was into the band Daft Punk, the book Game of Thrones, and the movie Blade Runner.

I was barely aware that he’d stopped commenting on my posts — friend activity online has always ebbed and flowed to the pull of real life. It was the sudden increase of activity on Kevin’s page that alerted me to his failing health.

Anytime a friend is “tagged” in a photo on Facebook, it appears on my home page. One day in late November I logged on to see that Kevin had been tagged several times by a page called “Get Well Kevin.” I followed the link to the community page, where a note explained that Kevin had been admitted to the hospital, that doctors weren’t sure what was wrong, but that he was stable. I didn’t know who was writing the updates — a family member, friend, or even coworker (Kevin was a veteran Qualcomm employee and close with his colleagues).

In the info section on the page was posted, “Since it’s 2010 and Get Well Cards are well…so last year, we have created this Get Well Kevin site for friends and family to post their get well wishes…. We will also try to put updates when we know them on here.” I clicked “like” to join the more than 700 people who wanted to offer Kevin moral support and keep tabs on his status.

A few weeks later, I noticed an update on my home page. It read, “Unfortunately, the news is not very good. However, neither is it all bad.” The note went on to explain that Kevin had swelling around his brain and was in a coma.

Days after that news, another note was added: “We are sad to report that Kevin’s condition has taken a turn for the worse.” It went on to describe specific issues, such as multiple organ failure and internal bleeding. This was terrible news, but my lack of a personal relationship with Kevin served as an emotional buffer. I processed the information as I would any tragic story I come across online — in more of a “Man, that sucks” than an “I need to go have a moment” sort of way.

The update itself didn’t strike me as much as the reaction of Kevin’s other Facebook friends. Forty-five people had “liked” the note. Until that moment, I thought clicking on the little thumbs-up icon was reserved for actually “liking” something, such as a funny link or a witty status update. I could only imagine that these people were “liking” the tone of the note or maybe the part at the end where the author suggested friends “laugh, crack a joke, a smile — whatever, in honor of Kevin.” It couldn’t have been the part that read, “Chances of recovery are extremely slim.”

Four days later, “Get Well Kevin” posted a note titled “Loss of Kevin.” It was a beautifully written eulogy typed by someone named Norm. As if they were raising their flickering lighters at the end of a concert, 45 people “liked” the announcement of Kevin’s passing. This I could not understand.

In the days that followed Kevin’s death, my home page was flooded with pictures of him. Their newness was eerie in the smoke of his extinguished candle. The “Get Well Kevin” page was transformed into a living memorial, a place where people continued to post their memories of the man they were lightheartedly teasing for being sick a month earlier.

Comments such as “I keep expecting him to call or message me like he has every day for years” were a reminder to me that Kevin was a friend I never had and therefore couldn’t lose. I couldn’t help noticing that I became more emotional over the comments of those who had known Kevin than I did at the news of his passing.

The strangest thing about the loss of my Facebook friend was that nothing of my experience with him had really changed. The virtual Kevin I knew still existed. He was still being tagged in photos, so he continued to pop up on my home page. His personal profile was still active: his phone number, his email address. How could he be gone when his contact information was right there, where it had always been? With the help of the internet, Kevin’s photos, his work, his interests, his comments, and notes remain in a world he has left.

The only way I know how to say goodbye, to accept his loss, let go and move on, is to click the link on his page that reads, “Unfriend.” Fortunately, notifications of unfriending do not appear on any page, so no one will have the opportunity to “like” my farewell to my Facebook friend.

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Comments

gin411 Jan. 26, 2011 @ 1:01 p.m.

Hahahah!! You think you can escape Kevin's memory by unfriending his "Get Well" page?! :-) His friends will find you at work, and keep reminding you! LOL! Sorry, I mean this in jest, I hope you take it that way. Kevin was an amazing man, and we all want to honor him with posting our memories of him. I had a nightmare the other night that his Facebook profile was removed, and I can't tell you how relieved I was when I woke up and discovered it was still there. This is our way of dealing with our grief. We find comfort in sharing experiences with those who knew him. Facebook has provided a great tool for reaching out to those people, and connecting with them. I'm glad you got to know him, even if it was just on Facebook. :-D

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Barbarella Fokos Jan. 26, 2011 @ 1:10 p.m.

Gin, I hear you. I think it's wonderful how the memorial remains "living," though Kevin does not. I loved looking at all of the pictures my friends posted from the big party in honor of Kevin. I thought of going, but didn't feel right about it. I regret I didn't get to know him more in life, as we were on that track. And, for the record, I haven't "de-liked" or "unfriended" yet. ;)

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Dr_Lisa Jan. 26, 2011 @ 2:41 p.m.

Barb, you have a wonderful way of putting a realistic but poignant perspective on virtually any situation. I especially related to your comments about the unusual practice of "Liking" something on Facebook, even when that something is tragic or negative. I suppose that hitting the "Like" button is seen by many as a way of showing support, but the strangeness of clicking an icon that says you "Like" something tragic is an unusual practice of the times that I haven't been able to bring myself to do. Kevin sounds like a delightful person who will be missed by those who loved him, and even those who didn't quite know him. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful farewell.

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nan shartel Jan. 26, 2011 @ 2:55 p.m.

~~boo hoo~~

i have a friend ...online friend who has disappeared and i think he's dead...but no one know for sure and if they do they won't tell

the bastards!!!

i knew the guy for 10years and e-mailed and visited his thread everyday...if he's not dead when his friends find him he wish he was...lolol

as u can tell i'm very angry about it because it was like he fell into that hole that goes to China

i question why no one will at least have the grace to say one way or the other...but enough time has gone by now that i think they r just a discombobulated by the whole thing as i am

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shadowcatsd Jan. 26, 2011 @ 3:18 p.m.

Barb & Lisa -

Personally, I agree with you re: "liking" something horrible (when is facebook adding that "dislike" button, again?)

However, as a close friend of Kevin's and one of those maintaining and posting information to the "Get Well" page (some of my comments/updates quoted in the piece above), I think I can speak to this a bit:

Those of us closest to the situation had a responsibility to Kevin and his family to respect his (and their) privacy, as well as his personal medical information. At the same time, we felt we had a responsibility to let the 700+ page "fans" (scores of whom are not mere "facebook friends") know what was happening as best we could.

Many people felt very, very starved for information about what was happening with Kevin and how he was doing; nothing breeds anxiety like uncertainty. So I think the odd "likes" were really "thank yous" for status updates, even when the news was, ultimately, tragic and final.

Thank you for the article.

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Barbarella Fokos Jan. 26, 2011 @ 4:17 p.m.

Thank you for the additional insight, Shadowcat. I agree that everyone (including me) was grateful for the updates, particularly my friends who knew Kevin much better than I did. That "like" button is not nuanced enough, but I think that the surge of love for Kevin was (and is) clear. Kevin was so kind and personable, it does not surprise me that many of his online friends were also real-life friends. I'm truly sorry for your loss.

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shadowcatsd Jan. 26, 2011 @ 4:50 p.m.

I appreciate that, thank you.

Incidentally, I met Kevin (as did many of his "real life" friends today) online - in 1987!

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SurfPuppy619 Jan. 26, 2011 @ 5:04 p.m.

The only way I know how to say goodbye, to accept his loss, let go and move on, is to click the link on his page that reads, “Unfriend.”

Hmmm...for the record you can simply program FB to not notify you of any activity on any "friends" profile. No more notifications, tagged or not.

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miss_zephirus Jan. 26, 2011 @ 11:44 p.m.

I find the timing on this article to be insensitive to those that are grieving.

It is a shame you never "knew" him, but for the 700+ "friends" that did, some may find this commentary difficult to digest and quite possibly unintentionally dismissive of the person they care for.

Perhaps some ambiguity may have been more appropriate in your introspective efforts to reflect on the nature of facebook relationships.

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JaimeMarso Jan. 27, 2011 @ 2:52 a.m.

I have found compassion and comfort in the messages from Kevin's 'friends', until now. I'll go along with "difficult to digest".

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Ponzi Jan. 27, 2011 @ 7:49 a.m.

“Friends are people you call or text on the phone.”

Wow, all this time I thought friends were people you did things with in person. Like do activities together. Have lunch, dinner or drinks together. Go to a sporting event or show together.

So the “new” friendship in the 21st century is being alone and walking or driving around staring into some electronic device talking or texting someone you never do anything with?

My, how the world has changed.


I’ve had a cell phone since 1987, first in my car and later the Motorola “brick” and now a regular cellphone. I was just commenting on my curiosity about why people “text” when they can talk. I mean I understand people are so-called “multi-tasking.” But then that means you’re not getting the other individuals undivided attention. So that’s means your generation permits being ignored part of the time? As far as using the computer to exchange messages with friends, we’ve had that for 20 years. It’s called e-mail.

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Barbarella Fokos Jan. 27, 2011 @ 8:23 a.m.

Ponzi, as with your comment on my last story, you strike right to the heart of the issue. Thank you for voicing what I left between the lines.

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Frederick Simson Jan. 30, 2011 @ 9:04 p.m.

It's getting so that a Neanderthal like myself can barely keep up with the progression. 1. Telephones (wired) 2. Telephone Answering Machines 3. DOS Bulletin Boards (Text Only) 4. AOL Chat Rooms and Instant Messaging 5. Special Interest Websites 6. Blogs 7. Facebook I have bravely stepped into the new century; albeit several paces behind even some of my Baby-Boomer cohorts. My Greatest Generation father, God love him, made his living from #1, and gamely kept pace until #4. He has now regressed to the more familiar territory where I can find him on speed-dial. I skipped #6, and had to go back recently. (It feels kind of like repeating the 6th grade.)

I recently experienced the loss of a Friend (as defined by Ponzi) through Facebook. The weird thing is he's still there on Facebook, which makes his sudden exit more surreal. Is this the new immortality?

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Maverick Feb. 2, 2011 @ 10:40 a.m.

I thankfully dumped Facebook a year ago. After a couple of months I was surprised to learn that people who have known me for years (who have my e-mail/phone number) thought 'something happened' since I had 'disappeared' and had 'fallen off the face of the earth.' As if I had passed away...

It is clear that the site is anti-social where one 'only exists' via laptop or iPhone.

A simple call or e-mail (or a visit) from those 'friends' would have been refreshing. Real 'social contact' has been lost.

Good riddance.

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Robert Johnston Feb. 2, 2011 @ 12:16 p.m.

Hey, Barbarella! I am very sorry for your loss. May Kevin be happy where the afterlife took him. Your articles have always been first rate--and today's was no exception.

Enjoy the sun! --LPR

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JohnnyJ Feb. 13, 2011 @ 4:43 p.m.

Why have Facebook friends you do not know? Unless you're an ego maniac and one of those people with a thousand friends and only 3 that you hang out with in "real life". Also think that somebody that "likes" something does not mean they like that they are sick or dying, but the message a person put about the situation.

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