Friday, June 29, 2007

Death Watch: Death Watchers

I've discussed before the failed promise of Wikipedia as a tool of death watching. I know now the reason I was so quick to lash out at the free-content encyclopedia was not so much that its occasional misidentification of a living person as dead, or vice verse, could have negative effects upon a lazy death watcher but, rather, because Wikipedia poses a serious threat to the essence and uniqueness of my hollowed vocation.

I like to say death watching is easy, and that anyone can do it. But I've been saying this with the sincerity of a late night infomercial claiming there are millions of effortless dollars to be made in real estate.

False modesty? Yes. But isn't that the pose most appropriate for a humble public servant?

Death watchers everywhere got a glimpse into our bleak future when it was reported Wikipedia had the details of wrestler Chris Benoit's murder-suicide -- as in the murder part had already happened -- up on its site hours before the authorities were alerted.

Death watching is more than just recognizing when someone has ceased their earthly breathing: There are all sorts of preparations that allow the experienced death watcher to be in the proper position to enjoy the glory, as it were, of a timely death identification.

And it is those actuarial efforts that separate the death watcher from the man on the street, with his passing interest in who is alive and who is dead.

But even the greatest of death watcher can't compete with the diligence of five billion sets of eyes observing and reporting the living and the dying in this increasingly inter-connected world.

Today, Wikipedia's early jump on Benoit's murder-suicide is being referred to as "creepy." What happens, to the proud death watcher, when what was once creepy becomes commonplace?

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