These days, you step away from the Internet for a moment and suddenly you’re behind on current events. Most recently, I went dark for twenty minutes and when I came back on Twitter, Nelson Mandela had died. Pair this with the tragic death of Paul Walker just days early, the Internet cried.
I know vaguely who Nelson Mandela was. I never studied apartheid or much of South African history in school. I didn’t even watch Invictus. What I do know about Mandela is cursory. He fought against racial discrimination and was willing to go to jail for 27 years for his beliefs. He was President of South Africa from 1994-1999. In short, most of his accomplishments happened either before I was born or during my formative years. While I can’t say that I didn’t benefit from him making the world a better place, his impact on my life is relatively indirect and minimal.
I have seen every Fast and Furious movie with Paul Walker. Those movies are likely Walker’s greatest legacy. That alone has meant that Paul Walker has had a more direct impact on my life than Mandela. Comparing the legacies of these two individuals is an idiotic task, but if I were to post a RIP to either of them, it would be about Walker. Mandela led and extraordinary life with huge accomplishments, but he died peacefully at the age of 95 and had been mostly out of public light since 2004. Walker died at 40, and while he didn’t leave us with too meaningful roles, he still had a potentially long career ahead of him.
Looking at my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I see plenty of my peers posting messages of mourning for Mandela. I suppose it would look rather shallow if you grieved over the loss of Walker but said nothing of Mandela, who, by almost any definition, had a greater impact in the world. However, your Facebook friends and Twitter followers aren’t relying on you for world news updates. Your social media presence should be personal and relate to how the things you post affect you (although please, we don’t care what you ate for lunch).
I don’t doubt that for some people, Mandela may have been a source of personal inspiration and his life was meaningful on a personal level to those people. But for the majority of people expressing their sorrow, I hesitate to assume that they even know what apartheid was. This is reflected by the awful tributes to Morgan Freeman that people have put up or the tasteless comparisons of Walker and Mandela, like the picture at the start of this post. Just because someone important died, doesn’t mean the rest of the world needs to know that you were vaguely aware of that person’s significance.