I woke up at 2:16am on Tuesday to my un-silenced phone blaring a New York Times news alert: David Bowie, the legendary musician, has died at 69.
I knew as soon as the rest of the world woke up, social media feeds would be filled with farewells, YouTube links, trending hashtags, and media coverage (some seemingly less relevant than others).
Our Facebook feeds went offline, too; chalkboard signs outside NYC restaurants forgoed their witty phrases to commemorate his death:
And it's not just Bowie. This is an easily predictable social trend for any respected and highly successful figure who has died too soon. Oliver Sacks and Robin Williams also come to mind.
Perhaps I'm being a cold-hearted asshole, but ... this stuff bothers me. I can't help it. And it's not that I don't respect these guys and the art they've created. I think Oliver Sacks was a pure genius; Labyrinth is a must-see for anyone with eyes.
And I'm really not trying to shame anyone who has shared something about Bowie online. Nor am I trying to dismiss the enormity of a human life by devaluing an individual's death.
What I'm trying to argue for is actually the opposite: It's not that these people shouldn't be recognized and mourned. It's that we need to do more of it and remember that every life is of equal value.
Just because you're not producing back-breaking records, writing industry-shifting books, or starring in Oscar-winning films, doesn't mean your life shouldn't be recognized as important.
Because once a life is considered less important, then people stop caring. They stop caring about how to help prevent the preventable deaths. They stop realizing that it should be a moral duty to appreciate, celebrate, and empower the lives around them—whether someone lives next door, half way around the world, or in your Netflix queue. Whether someone makes outrageously complicated art days before they die of cancer, or silently raises a family of six in an unmarked village, and dies while giving birth to number seven.
Social media is powerful, and does remarkable things to connect and educate us. It's especially encouraging to see how it has spurred conversations around #blacklivesmatter, the refugee crisis, and more.
I just want more people (myself included) to think beyond the headlines. To think about the chronic, un-sexy, and incredibly frustrating crises that are happening every day that don't trend on Twitter.
I had a journalist tell me the six month anniversary of the Nepal earthquakes wasn't important, and that "people don't care about that anymore." Was that tragedy not tragic enough? How do we decide what gets recognized, what is worth our outrage, our compassion, and our help?
When can our Facebook feeds share the frustrations of the thousands who quietly die everyday in poverty?
We can't only blame or rely on the media. We need to empower ourselves and each other to ensure that the weight of individual lives around the world are one and the same: heavy, invaluable, and worthy of a trending hashtag.