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Tech luminaries laud Dennis Ritchie ... 5 years after death

Well-known tech figures appear to have forgotten the father of the C programming language died years ago, falling victim to social media's "second death syndrome."

Dennis Ritchie (center) and Ken Thompson receiving the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999.
Dennis Ritchie (center) and Ken Thompson receiving the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999.

Some of tech's biggest names are paying tribute this evening to computing pioneer Dennis Ritchie.

Ritchie was an internationally renowned computer scientist who created the C programming language. He also made significant contributions to the development of the Unix operating system, for which he received the Turing Award in 1983.

The problem, especially if you look at it from Ritchie's perspective, is that he's been dead for five years -- exactly five years. That time gap seems to have escaped some of the biggest names in tech, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who late Wednesday tweeted out Wired's five-year-old obituary on Ritchie, thanking him for his "immense contributions."


Om Malik, a partner at True Ventures and the founder of tech site GigaOm, retweeted Pichai's tribute before soon recognizing his mistake and tweeting an apology for "adding to the confusion and noise."

Craig Newmark, founder of the popular online bulletin board Craigslist, also paid his respects, saying, "this guy made a huge contribution to the world."


With all due respect to Ritchie, the trio -- and hundreds of their followers -- appear to have fallen for a social media phenomenon called "second death syndrome." Rocker Joe Cocker, actress Rue McClanahan and actor Dennis Hopper have also garnered an outpouring of condolences years after their deaths when their obits are resurrected on the anniversary of their death.

It's understandable. Time has passed, and we sometimes forget that our favorite celebrities or figures have also passed, especially in this time of information overload.

The phenomenon appears to be driven not only by users' desires to share their feelings but also by algorithms used by social media platforms, which often automatically resurfaces old news items in users' feeds.

It's an important reminder that, even in death, we should use critical thinking for things published on social media.

But in this case, it's perfectly acceptable to again be appreciative of Ritchie's contribution to computing.