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26/10/2015

When Death, Commemoration, Technology and Design Get Together

In the past years, all sorts of ideas were raised, combining commemoration, design, architecture, technology, digital and virtual. 

In 2008, an article about Vidstone (which no longer exist) was published. 



They offered: 
"Utilizing ground-breaking solar-powered technology, this weather-proof LCD panel provides families and friends with a timeless way to commemorate a life that’s passed at one’s final resting place". 
Inspired by the movie Serenity and named after it. 


In 2009 a story went online about modern cemeteries in Japan: 




In 2010, e-tomb, a project by designers from China, won an international design competition
"A tombstone with Bluetooth and solar panels that stores your logs; friends and family can come over and access your virtual life from it and keep each other updated with anecdotes about you by uploading their stories to the tombstone". 









Sounds like a good idea - but to the best of my knowledge, it was never manufactured.  

In 2012 io9 published a story titled The Future of Graveyards, which includes bits about virtual graveyards and Interactive headstones.  

In 2013 an international competition was held: design for death. I spread the word among people I though might be interested in submitting a project to it: 




I admit I forgot to go back and look at the results and I thank Yoav Amir for reminding me to do so. Turns out there were several impressive ideas presented in it but the projects that caught my eye did not necessarily make it into the the winning entries list: 

Family Tree by two designers from China: 
"Family Tree is a contemporary family gravestone and ash storing device which offers people a revolutionary concept of burial and memorialization of the deceased. The design utilizes the image of a tree to symbolize family ties and intends to strengthen the concept of being together with family members.Each tree branch is an urn containing ashes of the deceased. After a family member passed away, his/her ash is to be put in the branch and fastened to trunk. The tree "grows" as members of the family passed away.In addition, Family Tree offers a new experience of memorializing the deceased. Apart from performing as an urn, each tree branch is a digital device storing personal information, memorable pictures, music and words of the deceased family member. While having a picnic under the Family Tree, family members may memorialize their loved ones by accessing those information digitally".








digital memorial cemetery by an Israeli designer: 
"If we examine the western cemeteries today we find that the way we perpetuate our dead takes a lot of space and eventually we sit in front of a stone trying to imagine the face and memories of our beloved person.Nowadays in a digital world, between Facebook, linked in, Twiter and all the other social networks, each person holds a lot of digital data and a digital personal internet profile.These facts led me to create a digital memorial cemetery. It is not an actual cemetery but it is a perpetuation place to mourn and remember the dead. The family and friends of a person who passed away can gather all the digital data they wish on one small memorial stick. The sticks are gathered in to a memorial archive or library; a neutral place to come and remember your beloved person, The scenario of use- By a quick computer search, you find the location of the requested memorial stick. The location is indicated by light, you take the stick to a separate memorialization room, there you can watch and listen to all the pictures, movies, songs or any other data. This way you mourn and remember your beloved when he is smiling in good and happy moments, it is a way to heal and cope with the loss in a positive point of view.The design of the memory stick and its stand creates the visual link between the traditional cemetery and the new future digital ones, furthermore the place of mourning remains public and neutral".






I love it, how designers from all over the world seem to understand the things I'm talking about!

A designer from Spain suggested digital remains
"My proposal its about digital remains. Today our digital activity its an important part of our lifes, social networks acounts, our own sites to express ourselves, our work, or just our thoughts about things... When someone died, whats happen with the deceaseds digital activity? Why is important to take care of the digital remains? It could be inappropiate, and painful to keep the deceaseds internet activity. And its our ecological responsability to clean it (Today, the cloud consumes the 5% of the worlds total energy).So... Why not provide digital-funerary services? It could be painfull to deal with all the deceaseds digital stuff... social network profiles... Why not centralize this kind of services? Its also an opportunity to process all the digital data into deceaseds memories. A commemorative document about the loved persons life. It cold be digital or a phiyical remember".







There are several websites offering similar services, you can see them listed in this post

This reminds me of the projects Audrey Samson, a Canadian artist-researcher, presented in 2014 in Canada, Hong Kong and the UK: Goodnight Sweetheart and ne.me.quitte(s).pas
"Goodnight Sweetheart is a data and device embalming service. Devices are cast in liquid plastic and data is transferred to ne.me.quitte(s).pas USB keys that are poured in epoxy. The service is a digital data funeral, a ritual to symbolically escape datafication and put our datafied selves to rest". 






But let's get back to the competition. A designer from the UK suggested cloud family grave
"Nowadays, people could remain a lot of data about their life such as pictures, videos, their own website, and blog using developed technology. These footprints of the deceased could be very valuable data that represents the age in which they lived and the life of their family. Cloud Family Grave is the medium that shows the life of ancestors and history of family to the future generations by remaining the deceased’s data as a scene of family history, not just disappear after the deceased pass away.< Cloud Family Grave service process> After a cremation, remained ashes are used for making a small memorial stone. It has a QR code which has the deceased’s fingerprint. All family members could access to the Cloud Family Grave that is a cloud computing service at anytime and anywhere through the QR code. Cloud Family Grave also has the data of other family members who passed away before so that the future generations could watch the life of them and learn history of family. Cloud Family Grave suggests that this cloud computing storage service and creating small memorial stone made with the deceased’s ashes as a ritual funeral process that creates the meaningful family grave".





A project by two designers from France is rip kit rest in peace keep in touch 
"When the current generation will die, it will be the first to have more personal information online than outline. This situation will revolution the deathcare, while the body will die, the profiles and the connections will remain. Will those information become memorials, confessions, heritages or avatars? RIP KIT is a design project that uses traditional stone and marble and connects the visitors to an online memorial through a QR code. RIP KIT uses classic materials with a new shape and function".








Which brings us to something which is being practiced - and in Japan, at least since 2008 - QR bar codes on headstones



Scanning the bar code will get you to a web site dedicated to the deceased, in his or her memory. This seems like the perfect solution - but not everyone will like having a code on the stone, and while such scanners are popular today, there is no guarantee they'll also be popular in the future. 

In 2014, Alison Killing gave a TED talk about architecture and death: 




The blog Death & Design is "A project exploring the use of design to create space for meaningful conversations about death, dying and life", by Common Practice, who aim to "Transform anxiety about dying into conversations about living". 

Another article well worth reading is "Death, Redesigned". 

Re.Designing Death - "Bringing Death to the Forefront of Innovation" is a community you might wish to also get acquainted with. 

In 2015 an artwork was presented at the "Science Gallery Dublin" by Karl Toomey, who, from a lifelogging point of view, presented this: 


Tweet by Denise Rushe

Tweet by Science Gallery Dublin

When asked "What do you want done with your data after you die?", Karl answered: "Save a copy on an external hard-drive and fire into space. Give another copy to science/medicine".


R.I.P.C. is an idea for digital commemoration by Or rigler, the CEO of a startup called Weave and a Social Network Analysis researcher who is now finishing his Master of arts at TAU: 
"People commemorate their memory in various ways and it's of high significance for them. One of the major ways for doing so is through burial, but burial as a solution loses its relevance in a world populated by seven milliard people. The modern person has a virtual persona: an avatar. Until recently this virtual persona was scattered and not unified, but today, tools such as Facebook help us consolidate this virtual persona in a worthy manner, and a human need becomes clearer for finding ways to commemorate it. My idea is to to create a three dimensional space to be managed by a company. Within that space a standard tombstone will be automatically allocated, to create norm and mass, and in that tombstone there will be a link leading to the avatar of that person. The company will create a platform linking commemorators who are interested in a more personal tombstone with a list of animators (for a commission). The company can also act as a "curator" for that information, in which case she'll buy it off the source and commit herself to its maintenance. Such maintenance will be for a fee and not defined by a time frame. Such a space will accumulate over the years a lot of information about people as a group, as individuals and in general". 

R.I.P.C. - first draft - Or Rigler 

R.I.P.C. - first draft - Or Rigler 

Or came up with the idea about five years ago, following the death of an acquaintance, who committed suicide: 

"Mutual friends kept talking about the activity in his Facebook profile after his death, mostly relatives lamenting. I refused to glimpse his timeline and in general found this subject to be quite morbid, but it got me thinking. Taking into account that people have a tendency to self commemoration, in addition to world population reaching, for the first time in history, such vast quantities - will burial keep being a possible solution? Already today burial grounds consume vast spaces. If an alternative won't be found, in two to three generations burial grounds could expand to more spaces than cities around the globe. And a slab of stone doesn't give you a solution to the virtual existence of the deceased". 

Or is thinking about developing this idea further as he believes in its potential from both a social and a financial perspective, and he'll be happy to collaborate. Readers of the blog are welcome to contact him by email: or@weave.so or via his Linkedin profile, if making this idea happen is something you'd like to take part in. 

November 2015 update: 
Another project well worth looking into is the Death issue of uncube, "a digital magazine for architecture and beyond". It doesn't have a Digital Death angle but it is a digital magazine and it does look into the combination of death, design and architecture in a spectacular way. 

November 2015 update: 
A new Death and Design competition has been launched - how exciting! All the details can be found here. "Award is 5000 GBP and a part-time residency at the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol. Submit your proposals by January 8th 2015. Register for an application pack before December 5th 2015".



Are you familiar with other relevant interesting projects? Drop me a line, I'd love to hear about it! You can send me an email: death.in.digital.era@gmail.com or a private message in the blog's Facebook page


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