Turn it off. Turn it all off. After reading about Susan Orellana-Clark actually witnessing her husband’s death in Afghanistan during their weekly Skype date, Facebook readers started suggesting that internet darkness during deployment was preferable to this kind of tragedy at home. Turn off the Skype. Turn off the Facebook. Let cell phones be silent and texts disappear.
I agree with them. I agree with authors like Karl Marlantes who lament the time and space and distance that existed for previous generations between war and home. This war can be too fast, too furious, too close.
So turn it all off — downrange at least.
Which is the stupidest thing I ever wrote in my life. Because part of the reason the troops have coped with ten years of war may very well be because of the constant tie to home provided by technology.
Over the past four wars, research has tied troop morale to the ability to connect to loved ones at home. Face it: we family members buoy those people we love so fiercely. Those too-short phone calls about what your toddler said today and that email about whether or not you think the lawn needs to be seeded don’t seem that important during a war. They may even seem to disrupt focus on the work of war. Yet the research shows that during the most challenging times of their lives, communication with families keeps service members anchored on what is real, what is meaningful, what lasts.
This is easy to forget in the pattern of news stories about how social media occasionally bypasses official notification, like the story about a spouse who learns that her husband is dead via Facebook. Or of a spouse being notified of a KIA via text. Or this story about a spouse actually witnessing a death on Skype.
Turn it all off.
Turning off technology — even downrange — is not the answer. It isn’t even a good fantasy. Technology is the spur of this generation of military families. Every time we read one of these stories, we each rehearse what we would do if such a tragedy occurred on our own laptops or our own cell phones.
Yet we also rehearse what we would do if we were the ones who found out a friend or acquaintance’s soldier had been killed. What is the kind way to be? What is the smart thing to do? What purpose do the official patterns of notification serve? This kind of tragedy is meant to make us think how the way we conduct our relationships by cell phone or email or text or Skype.
Remember, Susan Orellana-Clark and her husband were conducting their weekly date on Skype before he died. It is tragic that he died. It is horrifying that she was present yet not present at the same time. Yet I keep turning my own thoughts to the idea that they were having a date. That she saw his face and the way his eyes lit up when she first appeared on the screen and the way he laughed and the way he told a story. Yes, technology opens a sliver of space for tragedy to occur, but so much more joy comes in door that technology opens.