Looking to mix old and new better

The world is just a little smaller these days.

Darin J. McCannDarin J. McCann

From video-teleconferencing to Internet phone services to text messages and personal Web sites, we have near-instant access available to almost anyone we want to reach out and touch. It’s exciting in a way, but also a bit maddening at times to never really be able to escape from the rest of the world and hole up in an insulated bubble of solitude.

Overall, I’m a fan of the advances we’ve made in communication. It’s cheaper now to call loved ones long distance with new cell phone plans, I love being able to monitor my nephews through my sister’s Web site and I sit on a few committees where video conferences are the norm — allowing people to save money and energy by not having to drive to some distant destination. However ...

I was surfing the Internet the other day for updates on midget wrestling or eclectic taco seasonings or something, when I stumbled across a Reuters story concerning a new method of utilizing the tools bestowed upon us by the Great and Powerful Internet. The story focused on the happenings of a British company, Wesley Music, and their efforts to allow mourners to “attend” funeral services via the Internet.


Look, I know how hard it can be to travel for funeral services sometimes — you often don’t get much notice, costs can be outrageous and sometimes you have to figure out a plan for your kids and pets, and that plan may never come to fruition. It’s a struggle.

But I’m still a little shaky on this idea. A funeral director in southern England who had tested the service said it is tasteful. Mourners who can not make services are given a password to access the Web page, and the cameras are reportedly unobtrusive. “It’s a personal thing,” said David Powell, of Henry Powell and Son. “It doesn’t go out for all and sundry to gawk at.”

First off, I’m still giggling about how funny British people speak. Second, what happens when one of these services are being performed for a public figure? Yes, the password is only given out to those on a list provided by the family, but wouldn’t there be a temptation for some goofball cousin in Wales to record the video and sell the footage? Or, isn’t there some concern that some embarrassing moment that inevitably takes place in at least every McCann family funeral gets put on YouTube for the world to see?

And, lastly, isn’t this just a little morbid?

I’m becoming convinced that we’re stepping a little out of bounds on some of the new tools we’ve been afforded. The industry has provided instant access to pornography to young people on the Internet, blog writers are beginning to be seen as legitimate sources of information and companies advertise all over the Internet that provide the simple service of being able to snoop on anyone you’d like.

I get a kick out of legislators who believe it’s a really good idea to prevent people from playing online poker, but have done absolute squat in terms of restricting young people from Web sites with content focused on making bombs or barnyard porn. Yes, people can lose money in online gambling, but that is of their own volition, and is restricted to people who at least are old enough to have a valid credit card.

I’m a tech guy. I have four DVRs in my home, an iPod, a Blackberry, HDTV, you name it. I have dozens of RSS feeds funneling into my phone at any given time, I enjoy podcasts every day and I’m head-over-heels in love with all the instant access to the happenings of the current presidential primaries. If it has flashing lights or does something that makes me go “ooh,” I’m probably going to try to have it for my own. I’m also, as you could probably guess, a giant fan of the rights to free speech and expression.

All that being said, I’m actually of the opinion that we’re going a little far on the access we have at our fingertips.

Do I believe it should be illegal to Webcast funeral services? Not at all. Though I’m not a fan of it myself, I could see how it could be useful if I got transferred to the Coastal Point’s Beijing bureau, and someone I knew well in this area passed. Also, even though I’m not a big admirer of this service, other people might be — so I believe that’s up to the individuals to decide.

But I almost feel as if we’re pulling people further apart in our efforts to bring them closer together.

A funeral service is not just about paying homage to the deceased, it’s also about offering one’s respects to the surviving family and friends. It’s a cathartic experience to join with others who are mourning in order for one to be able to more ably deal with the loss. It’s not just about wearing a black suit and offering a silent prayer at the casket, it’s about hugging aunts and uncles and eating deviled eggs and telling stories that somehow make everyone feel a little better for that brief frozen moment in time.

And it’s not just the funeral services. I now find myself dropping e-mails to longtime friends rather than picking up a phone and scheduling time to be together. We don’t pen hand-written letters anymore, we text one-sentence updates to each other on our phones. We don’t go through the regular courting process anymore, people now hook up through Internet dating services.

I’m not bemoaning the new — just wishing we could mesh it better with the traditional.

But I www.digress.