Social media usually gets a bad wrap today – it’s blamed for our failing eyesight, linked to terrorist groups and central to cyberbullying and youth suicide. There is probably a small amount of truth in all of those claims, but you don’t often hear about the other side of the coin – what social media does well. This last week, we’ve seen a different side to social media, and I think that it’s worth reflecting on.
The death of Phillip Hughes was a tragic accident. I read somewhere that there are less than 100 cases of that particular injury reported in the literature, which makes the chances of it happening are tiny. Unfortunately for Hughes, the ball struck him in just such a way to lead to that injury. What was surprising about the terrible events was the sudden outpouring of emotion across the globe about Hughes’ death. People from all over the world – mostly cricket players and fans, but also hockey players and soccer players and musicians – all took to social media to express their grief. Most impressive was the #putoutyourbats movement (if that’s the right term for it) where everyday Australians – and some not so everyday Australians, too – put out a cricket bat at their door, often with gloves or a cricket cap on top of it.
It was a simple, fitting memorial, and the sheer scope of people doing it was staggering. There was something about the nature of Hughes’ death that struck a chord with people around the world. Perhaps because he was young (25 when he died) or the fact that he died actually playing cricket, or maybe even the sudden banality of it, but regardless of the cause, there can be no doubt that people felt the need to commemorate his passing in their own way and #putoutyourbats was just he memorial that was needed.
Of course, there are people out there that will say that it’s ultimately a pointless endeavour. Nothing that matters will come out of the deluge of photos on twitter and Facebook of cricket bats and soccer balls and hockey sticks. In a bloodless way, they are right, of course. But these arguments miss one very important point: funerals aren’t for the dead. They are for the living. Just like a funeral, cricket fans have taken the chance to say goodbye to a player that they cared for, but instead of being at the funeral, they’ve done it as part of a global social media community; private grief has become easier to bear by becoming public.