The Mast-Head: An Online Obituary

Today, word of a death can be instantaneous once it is published online.

    In fewer than the allotted 140 characters, someone  took to Twitter to make note of an obituary that appeared in The Star last week, but it was a first. Social media has become ubiquitous, but somehow, to my knowledge, no one had tweeted before on what we had written about a loved one who had gone.

    For those of us in local news there is the knowledge that we have far more readers now than we ever had before, thanks to the Internet. What we write now has a long reach and an extraordinary degree of persistence.

    The comment about the late Yolanda Gross came from a nephew who recalled her as a lovely person. He directed his Twitter followers to our website. Two others responded to the obiturary with tweets of their own, spreading word a little further.

    I took particular interest in this, as I guess I am The Star’s web-geek-in-chief, something I can trace back to a beginning computer class at East Hampton Middle School around 1976. John Ryan Sr., I believe, supervised a small group of us as we took turns phoning in to a remote computer, storing little programs we wrote on yellow paper punch-tape.

    Equally, though, I had taken note of Ms. Gross as information about her life had come into the office the previous week. A retired teacher, sometime Springs School librarian, accomplished cook, and classical pianist, she was the kind of person we would have liked to profile in the paper while she was alive. Hers was the best kind of obituary, one that leaves us wishing we had met.

    It is funny to contemplate how far technology has come from those days in the mid-’70s when remote users could connect to distant time-sharing computers, but not to one another. Not that many years ago, it might have been weeks before Ms. Gross’s relatives and friends elsewhere saw her obituary in a clipping sent by mail. Today, word of a death can be instantaneous once it is published online.

    We now realize we are not just writing for a local audience, but that the whole world can look in. Or, as with Yolanda Gross, a wide and affectionate circle of family and friends.