This essay aims to shed light on two online phenomena dominated by women in the contemporary Swedish context—blogs about terminal illness and support groups for the bereaved—and explore what they mean for those afflicted by suffering and loss. We will show that in the shadow of the grand interruption—the moment when the life narrative itself is cut off because of imminent or sudden death—the studied online activities of mourners and the illness stricken, but also and more profoundly, the internet itself, become literal lifelines, both individual and collective. When they assume a salvific vital role this entails both possibilities and predicaments. Studying various renditions of lifeline communication both enables a re-conceptualization of our culture of connectivity as an existential and ambivalent terrain and requires an “upgrading” of the existential to our contemporary technological culture. In forging existential philosophy and the new materialism into a productive, if not tensionless, conversation we stress, firstly, that in emphasizing life and downplaying subjective death some strands of affect theory may neglect the universal absolutes of death and suffering, as sources of fecundity. Ontologically, technologies are lifelines precisely because of severe illness and loss. And secondly, we show that through their practices these women partake in what Karl Jaspers calls a truly “existential elucidation” in both words and deeds, but also importantly through affective encounters online. Their practices display the significance of shared vulnerability in and through the digital. Lifeline communication offers, beyond narrative, the simple promise of being there for one another online, in mutual ethical veneration of both silence and alterity. Hence, attending to grand interruptions allows for appreciating important and heretofore neglected existential implications of mediation, from the horizon of those who in the wake of loss or ill health stand before the abyss, and who live and die with the technology.
Keywords: Vulnerability, existential philosophy, affect, digital culture, death