Public forums have seen visitor numbers surge due to an outpouring of emotion from people paying tribute to Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder who died this week.
This collective or public grieving was a common phenomenon, experts said, and was also evident in the immediate weeks after public figures such as Michael Jackson and Diana, Princess of Wales, died.
No public funeral or memorial services would be held, Apple said on Friday, after a private ceremony for his family. The company is planning a celebration of Mr Jobs’ life for employees only.
With the heightened reach of social networks, however, public grieving is happening mostly online, evidenced by surges in traffic on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other websites in the past two days.
“The internet, it is our new town square,” said David Kessler, a grief expert and co-author with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross of On Grief and Grieving. “It’s important that grief be witnessed.”
Because Jobs was so instrumental in developing the computers and phones so many people use in offices, Mr Kessler said the collective grieving will be especially pronounced in the workplace. However, he said managers and co-workers do not always understand how to deal with the sad comments made around the water cooler.
When someone publicly expresses grief, “there’s some people who go: ‘Wait a minute! You didn’t know Steve Jobs’,” Mr Kessler said. “With television, the internet, Steve Jobs does become our co-worker. In a real way, we do actually know him.”
Mr Kessler recommends providing online venues for people to express themselves, as Apple did immediately following its co-founders’ death on Wednesday when it set up the email account firstname.lastname@example.org.
Workplaces founded by young entrepreneurs who took their primary inspiration from Jobs, his design and his leadership, are among the most vocal, expressing grief mainly in the form of gratitude and promise.
“Steve Jobs defined our generation,” Brian Chesky, 30, chief executive of Airbnb, wrote on Twitter, echoing a sentiment from many leaders in their twenties and early thirties.
Several young leaders acknowledged that the apps market created by Mr Jobs’ iPhone is the very reason their companies exist.
“You will live on through the culture of design that you have created not only at Apple, but in the companies and start-ups in the world inspired by it,” wrote Dave Morin, 30, chief executive of Path, and a former employee at Apple and Facebook, on his Tumblr blog. “We will work hard to carry the culture forward.”
Twitter servers struggled under the weight of the surge in traffic, with many users seeing the site’s “fail whale”, indicating their message had not been transmitted.
Facebook newsfeeds became populated in seeming equal parts with anti-corporate ‘Occupy Wall Street’ messages contrasting with tributes to the chief of one of America’s most profitable companies.
Temporary public shrines were also assembled outside Apple stores across the world and outside Jobs’ home in Palo Alto, where mourners placed flowers, photographs and even iPhones in his memory.
The death of a public figure such as Jobs also triggers feelings and questions that are not related to him personally, experts say. Some might reflect on his life philosophies, that he became ill and died relatively young, causing them to consider their own mortality. It could also trigger emotions over a previous loss.
“Let’s say six months ago, my brother died. In that moment it might be too overwhelming for me to fully grieve,” Mr Kessler said. “Then later, Steve Jobs dies and all of a sudden I can feel those feelings about my brother I couldn’t feel six months ago.”