The Internet has connected me to hundreds of people I'd never know otherwise. Sometimes I know these people almost like they're kin. Other times I read them from afar, reading their thoughts without reciprocating. Sometimes they're causal acquaintances, occasionally business associates, but regardless, a connection is established. And when that connection is cut, I still feel it.
About a week ago, I heard that one of the people with whom I play online boggle died of cancer. I'd met Mark about three years ago at a gathering in DC of some of the people on the site. He'd come up from Florida, and his sister had come down from New York City. He seemed a genuinely nice guy, somewhere in his mid-to-late 50s, but I didn't know him well. I'd just see him online regularly, and we'd play Boggle. Occasionally bits of news would come up in the chat that takes place while waiting for a game to start, but that was the extent of our communications.
Shortly after that, I learned that Steve Gilliard died after an extended illness. I'd stumbled across Steve's former site by accident, following a link, or perhaps by clicking on "Next Blog" at the top of the page. He was an unrepentant liberal whose tone was acerbic interlaced with humor, and his style was direct. I frequently read the stories that he either wrote or commented on. I didn't always agree with him, but his blog was always worth reading -- it needed to be, since that was how he made his living. The subject matter he wrote or posted about seemed limitless, and strayed from politics to include food, pop culture, sports, and all things New York. I posted a couple of comments, but I never corresponded with him. I didn't even know what he looked like until a picture of him went up on his site In Memoriam. Still, his posts gave us a glimpse into who he was, just as I hope mine do for me.
And on Wednesday I learned that someone that I'd worked with but never met had died the day before. Elizabeth worked for a government agency in Hawaii, and we needed to e-mail frequently concerning a protracted case I'm working on. She had been battling cancer for quite a while, and my co-worker and I learned of her illness only because of the resulting delays to our case. I don't know how old she was, but in my mind's eye I pictured her to be about 40. She was a scientist who'd just finished up returning to school to become a lawyer. She was quite helpful, and very willing to work with us in pursuit of a reasonable result.
None of these people were close to me, and I don't really expect to miss any of them. There are many other people I've met online who have become much closer acquaintances, and some of these have become genuine friends. Still, I feel sadness about the deaths of each of them, all of them too early in life. Maybe it's pathetic, a sign of how fortunate I've been, i.e., the relative good health of my real-life friends and family means I'm seeking out surrogate grief on behalf these people I hardly even knew. Personally, I think it's just a sign of how connected the world has become.