The day was divided into four time segments. Two discussions were held at the same time during each segment, and each attendee chose which one to join. Since it was an unconference, we suggested the topics for the sessions and their order on the spot and not in advance. The full agenda is available here.
For the first segment, I joined Andriana Cassimatis's session: "Announcing Death and Mourning online - how to strike a personal / useful balance. Do we use technology to replace the act of togetherness or do we use it to facilitate it more effectively?"
Stacey Pitsillides (left) and Andriana Cassimatis (right),
co-organizers of Digital Death Day London 2012
"How do people announce death online? In the US, a wake or a funeral is usually held after 3 days. In Israel, it can be held the same day, or the following day at the latest. If you use technology in general and the internet in specific, it will be very efficient, but will it be personal enough?
What if you need to let friends and family know the details but don't want to pick up the phone? Is it OK to notify them via email / Facebook? If people are sending online invitation to a wedding, why not to a funeral? Is it OK to let certain communities know online, while others will still require a phone call? Do the answers to these questions vary according to geographical locations? or according to religious beliefs? Will conservative Christians refrain from posting such things online, for instance?
How would you feel if you learned of a death through Facebook? Will you comfort / console / pay your respects through Facebook? Through Twitter? If we send virtual condolences, will less people attend the funeral / wake / seven days of mourning (Jewish tradition) in person?
If we send our condolences through our online presence rather than in person - is it personal enough? Are we reaching through thanks to technology, or are we hiding behind our computers and remaining isolated? Are we expecting more of technology than we do of people? Is technology bringing us closer together, or making us feel more alone?
How would you feel if you were invited to a funeral / wake through a Facebook event? Where do we draw the line? Will there be virtual funerals? Will there be live streamings of funerals? Will there be a funeral on skype? Will there be ads next to it?
Will people keep going to funerals in person? Will broadcasting a funeral cause less people to go to it in person? Will people feel more distant? Or will people who can't attend the funeral feel closer, that they were able to at least attend virtually or view it while it was taking place?
What is acceptable? With what will people feel comfortable? Is there an existing such format, or is there a need for developing a new format?
What if the death is sudden, and the family is upset and haven't thought of a ceremony in advance - they would wish to "fall back" on the default, and there isn't a default yet.
Will Google display death related ads, such as funeral homes, if you were to write the word death in an email in gmail?
In Ireland there is a tradition of sending a proxy to the funeral in your name if you can't attend it in person. The proxy attends the funeral / wake in person in your stead - regardless to whether or not he knew the deceased. Is virtually attending a funeral / wake like sending a proxy of yourself to it?".
For the second segment, I joined Yiota Demetriou's session: "Unstable Timeline (Identity on Facebook), Mourning on Social networks"
"In Cyprus, people change their profile picture to a black square when in mourning.
The movie Never Sorry, about the famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, tells how "After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Ai used multiple media — art installations, video documentaries, Twitter — as he persistently investigated and questioned the official party line on student casualties... ... Ai continued to tweet and make works about China's lack of transparency..." (quotes from here). As a way to contradict the low, unrealistic number of earthquake victims the Chinese government publicly admitted, people used twitter: they collected names of dead people in each village and twitted that information on, to create a bigger picture.
Self commemoration, self documentation: Yiota, for example, hasn't had a diary since she was 12. She does have an archive of herself, including audio recordings.
Do we need QR codes on gravestones? We don't really know the deceased, what will more information about then mean to us? Isn't it better to have a bit of a mystery? Will it lead to 'grief tourism'? Is it one of our ways of trying to achieve immortality? Are we using technology just because it's there, or is it truly of service to us?
Is there a point in trying to commemorate ourselves for future generations who never met us and don't know us? Our bodies deteriorate when we die - shouldn't our memory deteriorate with it? Our body will gradually no longer be - perhaps our data should gradually disappear too.
Once people die, there is no new information regarding them, so the old information will be displayed on 'repeat', in a 'loop'. How will that affect the way we remember them?
Some people are now buried with their mobile phone, so their loved ones will be able to text them whenever something of significance takes place, among other reasons.
What happens to our online assets if the servers fail? What are we left with then? What will be left of us?
Amazon erased George Orwell’s 1984 book from kindles of people who have purchased the book - or so they thought. To which virtual, digital and online assets do we actually hold the rights to?".
Kalyia Hamlin thinks this might be achieved, and the way to get it done will be to 1. make this technically possible, 2. offer companies to use it since it already exists, 3. encourage people to use this option since it is already being offered to them. She will spread this idea around OASIS-IDtrust and see what she can come up with.
Another option is to have an online survey between internet users, and ask them: "would you like to have such an option?" If the results are positive, to approach internet companies such as Twitter etc. and tell them "This is what the people want, please implement this option into your system". To have a campaign in this regard.
Perhaps a lobby is required: to address governments and demand law enforcement on digital legacy management.
Other issues raised in this session were to go into the school educational system and implement digital studies into it, which will include taking personal responsibility for your online actions and assets.
Another direction in need of further looking into is the ecological and environmental Implications of digital and virtual death (and/or digital and virtual life after death).
Ann Cavoukian and her concept of "Privacy by Design" were mentioned, but I'm afraid I didn't write down the context - please feel free to remind me!
I'm afraid I didn't take any notes during the fourth segment, Stacey Pitsillides's session: "The future of digital death day? What is next for this community?"
These are only the notes that I personally scribbled during the sessions and are not an 'official' summary.