We explore some of the ways in which our digital heritage can outdo our biological selves. From holograms to implants and ashes with 3-D printing, technology and design will play a huge role in how we tackle death and bereavement. Where does this leave our sense of identity and our relationships with our loved ones after we die?
When my grandmother passed away this year, I was devastated. She may have been in the late ’80s, but her sunny personality and boundless energy made it look like she’d probably live on forever.
My grandmother was what you used to call the “Silver Surfer”. From the moment she inherited her daughter’s old laptop, she embraced the Internet like a digital native. Not long ago we were helping her set up a Facebook profile that she’d happily spend hours sharing cute animal videos and texting us sweet messages, always written in caps. I stopped explaining to him that it was like constant shouting. She liked it that way.
A few months after he passed away, I was a little shocked to see his picture in my notifications, reminding me it was his birthday. I hadn’t forgotten, but I was sad to imagine other family members, whose grief was still very raw, receiving similar messages. I thought—perhaps naively—that since Facebook knew enough about my life and habits to bombard me with targeted ads, it would also turn out that my grandmother was no longer with us. But the bots had no clue.
I looked at the process for reporting a death on Facebook, and requested that his account be “memorized.” This means that no one can log into the account again, but her posts remain visible to the people with whom they were originally shared, and friends and family continue to share memories on her timeline. can keep. I wanted to preserve my grandmother’s memory digitally.
After I made my request, I got an almost instant response from someone on Facebook’s Community Operations team asking me to send them their death certificate. His response struck me as awkward and insensitive – as if I was making it up for some reason.
Since I didn’t have that document (my grandmother lived in Brazil and I didn’t make funeral arrangements), I argued that they should be able to confirm her passing through the evidence available on their own platform. Facebook eventually agreed, but I can’t say it was a particularly enjoyable process.
Technology is currently challenging our concept of the meaning of living and dying. “The technology industry is not really at death,” says Stacy Pitsilides, a design lecturer at the University of Greenwich who is a PhD candidate in the field of data contextualization in digital death.
Since starting her research several years ago, Pitsilides says she’s noticed a remarkable change: People are becoming more eager to immortalize personal experiences online than I realized after my grandmother passed away.
This observation led him to establish Love After Death, a panel exhibited at Futurefest in London to help people explore how technology integrates into new forms of creative expressions surrounding death and death. is happening. I met with Pitsilides at Futurefest, a festival of ideas sponsored by innovation charity Nesta, to discuss the concept of digital legacy.
Technology is currently challenging our concept of the meaning of living and dying. Pitsilides believes that technology and design will play an important role in the grieving process, which he calls “creative mourning.” “By creating a bespoke heritage agreement, it merges the concept of a design agency with that of a funeral director,” she said.
To illustrate this, Pitsilides began by taking me through a questionnaire asking me things ranging from practical (who should be informed of my death to loved ones, and whether I am a fan of music, art, or poetry). Want to set up a database for my funeral?) for the weird and quirky (Would my friends like to have an online monitor via live webcasting where I can attend via holograms, and a memorial about getting implants or tattoos) in how?)
Death by design
“You can have a surface-level or below-the-skin digital tattoo that can be matched with a loved one,” Pitsilides explained. Using simple techniques, you can add content to these digital souvenirs for a lifetime and then activate them after your death.
This activation can be triggered either by the executor of your will – more than 19 US states have already put forward laws to recognize the decedent’s digital inheritance as part of their estate – or we can signal when this happens. AI systems can be developed to recognize At that time, based on the terms you have left in your Digital Will, certain Content will be available to people you predetermined.