Now Celebrities Are Our 'Friends' We Mourn Their Passing Even More

The sense of loss is real. Because it is.

05/06/2016 5:42 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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The list of legends that have passed away this year is long.

Muhammad Ali -- gone. Prince -- taken from us. (He was supposed to be immortal.) That bastard, cancer, took David Bowie while we were still mourning Alan Rickman, the ultimate 'Die Hard' villain. And what about Natalie Cole -- truly "Unforgettable".

The list of legends that have passed away this year is long. Of course, 2016, a mere calendar year, is not to blame for our sadness, as these legends -- who's gravitas is so firmly embedded in our culture -- pass away.

No, digital media is the true culprit for our pain.

When I look at today's young stars I die a little more inside. Justin Bieber, the Kardashians, Taylor Swift, Katie Perry, One Direction... Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have the greatest number of Twitter followers in the world: Katy at 89.2M and Taylor at 78M. I use their first names as if they are my friends.

Herein lies the reason why our hearts break for the loss of legends. A friend on Facebook summed it up: "The first century of mass media brought these people to us, and now we're seeing them leave. This will continue, of course, but we're the first generation to really experience fame's full cycle in so many ways."

The hours spent growing up watching 'MTV' and 'Rage' all night have meant that these legends worked their way deep into our brains. As media evolves we can almost touch the stars of today, talk to them in real time on Twitter. We feel transnational, we can be on stage with them, transported beyond the physical walls that countries (and Donald Trump) would put up, delivered digitally to the front row live via YouTube. Virtual reality will ensure that this psychologically disruptive intimacy we feel with these stars will continue.

It is feasible that in the near future we will be able to go to Beyoncé's house, explore her wardrobe with her and be there to record her next album. The more media and technology delivers these stars to us, the more intimate our relationship becomes, as we connect in a deep formative way and the harder it is to accept their passing.

These stars knew this. As Muhammad Ali said: "I'm the most recognized and loved man that ever lived cuz there weren't no satellites when Jesus and Moses were around, so people far away in the villages didn't know about them." Prince was fragmented in his approach to social media. In 2014 he deleted all his social media accounts, only to launch Princestagam in 2015, which included his own Memes.

The real futurist was Bowie. He developed BowieNet in 1998, "An ISP offering "uncensored" access to the internet attached to a dedicated David Bowie website. Subscribers could browse a vast archive of Bowie's photographs, videos and interviews, as well as a blog, career chronology and news feed. The artist also promised further exclusive tracks and webcasts, including footage from the Earthling tour."

Bowie understood the importance of building empathy with audience and was a visionary in his early efforts to do so. As Chris Janz, CEO of Huffington Post Australia, said at Remix Sydney this week: "The nightly news is so depressing we need stories that lift us." This is the power of these legends, and their tool of choice is digital media. They hold power to lift us to an almighty high of connection to their creativity, but with the high comes the devastation of the fall as they pass away.

The artists we have lost made culture -- a culture that we are all immersed in daily. As technology races forward the lines between what is real and what is virtual will blur. The walls of celebrity evaporate with digital media and celebrities move to become people we feel we truly know. The sense of loss feels real, because it is.

So while we celebrate the lives of these icons that have played their part in making us who we are, strap in as technology and media accelerate. We are sure to be in for an emotional ride for the rest of 2016 and beyond.

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