Saturday, July 27, 2013

Grandpa commits suicide over poor smartphone skills?

This is not a funny story, but it's comes right from a vernacular newspaper in

Taiwan, a Chinese-language tabloid called "Apple Daily," which has nothing to do

with that other ''Apple'' company where we often see headlines such as "Apple faces fresh questions after another apparent suicide by factory worker in China."

No, this is a sad and tragic story, and while not all the details are in yet, we cannot really say the middle-aged man committed suicide -- despite leaving a suicide note in his car after drinking pesticide and burning coals in the cab of his truck. There might have been other family and domestic and personal problems the police report did not go into yet, and I suspect this wasn't a simple case of, as the headline in Taiwan in English translation read: "Smartphone confusion leads to man's suicide."

Questions remain. But to see how the story unfolds, take the English-language translation of the Chinese-language article in the Apple Daily that appeared in a recent edition of an expat daily newspaper and website in Taipei, which reads, in part: "A 57-year-old man who killed himself left a suicide note saying he felt life was meaningless because he did not know how to use a computer or smartphone. The man, a vegetable vendor, was found dead inside his small truck on Thursday. Police were cited as saying that [the middle-aged man] drank some pesticide and burned coal inside his vehicle."

There's more, in translation, but it pretty much tells the story: "Police found an old cellphone and a suicide note, among other things, inside the truck, and cited the man's apparent suicide note that read: 'I suddenly understand that I should [die] now. I have been unable to keep up with the times. Those computers, mobile phones, I know nothing about them. What's the meaning of living on?'"

Police contacted the dead man's son to try to get more information about the apparent suicide. They concluded after hearing the man's son say that he felt his father ''must have been depressed by the fact that he did not know how to use smartphones or the Internet, things that his three grandsons liked.''

According to the son, in his mid-30s, the father often visited his three grandchildren in a nearby city, but always complained that he had very little to say to the children and did not know how to communicate with them due to his lack of skills in using smartphones or computers.


"My father hardly had any interactions with his grandsons because of the technological gap," the son told police.

But there's more to this story, and don't take the headline in Taiwan at face value: "Smartphone confusion leads to man's suicide."

Because the deceased had personal problems as well, and his choice to commit suicide could very well have come from other issues. According to police, the man had recently starting living alone after divorcing his second wife, and there are few other details available about what might have led the man to an early grave. In Taiwan, however, according to some religions popular here, suicide is not seen in the same way as Westerners think of suicide in the North America or Europe. Suicide in some Asian cultures can be a way to solve problems and reincarnate in a new body or realm, so this man's suicide note must be read in this light, too.

Still, whatever happened, this apparent suicide is a cautionary tale, although this reporter has no real lock on what it means.

Are smartphones dangerous for intergenerational communication? That shouldn't be the case. Was this man depressed about other things in his life, and perhaps even suffering from clinical depression? Could be. We will never know.

My own headline, for what it's worth, would have been: "Elderly man commits suicide; smartphone connection unproven."

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