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29/12/2015

My Summary of "Death Online Research Symposium", August 2015, London, UK - Day 2

My summary of Day One - August 17th - can be found here


Day Two - August 18th 


Keynote lecture by Daniel MillerUniversity College London, UK

What I remember most from his talk was his story about interviewing an old man from a small village in England. The man told him proudly that "There isn't anyone in this village who wouldn't help me if I asked him/her to". So Daniel asked him: "Well, have you asked anyone in this village for help?" and he replied: "Well of course not!".
I also remember the English attendees of the symposium laughing their heads off from his description of this small English village, and a certain person who shall remain anonymous said "Thank you for describing my entire family just now".
On a more serious note, the findings I remember are that there were many old people in need of company or assistance and many younger people who volunteered impressive amounts of time to help the needy and the elderly - and the trick to making it work seems to be to have strangers help, and not people they know, in order for both sides to feel comfortable with the exchange. 


Here are some quotes from his abstract:


"Social Media and the English Death": 

My study in an English village found a surprising amount of loneliness and isolation amongst hospice patients. I argue this is not because of the decline in English sociality, the problem is English sociality. One of the results of our study is a definition of social media. As it happens this is especially important in the English context because the prior dualism between public broadcasting and private chat corresponded closely to the traditions of English sociality which also tended to split between being friendly in public while defending the sanctity of the private home. Social media has radically changed this from a duality of media to what we call scalable sociality which can bridge between the private and the public through the group. I look at the implications this has for hospice patients both now and in the future. Partly through the stories of two particular patients and their use of Facebook, which amongst other things, revealed how a mirror selfie can be extraordinarily profound".



Panel session 3: Practices of Death, Dying and Mourning Online


Panel Chair: Korina Giaxoglou, Kingston University London
  • Discussing death and dying on Facebook while watching the virtual wake of a stranger: Andréia Martins, University of Bath
  • Networked empathy and the art of dying. Blogging with and about cancerYvonne Andersson, Stockholm University
  • Un-controlled presence: post-mortem digital interactionPaula Kiel, London School of Economics and Political Science 
  • #RIPRobinWilliams - digital memorials as mediators of a ‘lived life’Anu Harju, Aalto University 
  • A digital archaeology: navigating the post-mortemAriana Mouyiaris 

Andréia Martins, University of Bath


Picture by Jakob Sabra


Her presentation caught me completely by surprise. I was unaware that group online watchings of wakes of strangers existed. I couldn't help but wonder if watching reality shows is to blame for this phenomenon. I can't imagine a group gathering online to eat popcorn, watch the wake of a stranger and post comments and judgments about the ordeal - yet they do. They Tweet to let each other know when one is online and where to watch it and they make print screens to capture the experience for those who couldn't make it. Is it a fascination with death? Is it disrespectful for the deceased / the people who attend the wakw in person? If so, why is it open for live streaming / watching and not hidden behind a password for only the relatives and friends to see? Apparently it has evolved over time: at first there was only one camera, now there are several, including one just above the casket, showing the face of the deceased. I wouldn't watch it if you paid me to - but there are people that this is how they spend their Friday nights, glued to the screen, watching the wake of a stranger. 

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Discussing Death and Dying on Facebook While Watching the Virtual Wake of a Stranger

This paper aims to show the main interactions between users of a Brazilian Facebook group that often use the viewing of Virtual Wakes of strangers to discuss death and dying. The Virtual Wake is the real-time streaming of the period of 12 to 24 hours the family normally spends with the body before burying or cremating it, and is an extremely important part of the Brazilian death rituals, interpreted as the last chance to say goodbye to a loved one. The Virtual Wake is now a thriving business for the funerary companies and consists in placing a camera in the rooms where the regular wake happens. The online community, called “Dead people profiles” is a space dedicated to listing the profiles and causes of death of Facebook users, similar to an obituary, and today has more than thirteen thousand members. Their points of view and
general community interactions were analyzed during participant observation and private interviews in 2013 as part of a Nethnography work for a Master’s Thesis in Anthropology, introducing this less explored feature of virtuality as a possibility to deal with death and dying".


Yvonne Andersson, Stockholm University




Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Networked Empathy and the Art of Dying. Blogging With, and About, Cancer

In media debate the blogosphere, especially diary blogs, is sometimes criticized for contributing to the superficiality of society as the subjects discussed in blogs tend to be rather trivial, such as trends in fashion, food and home decoration. In social media research Miller has argued that blogs have shifted from providing substantive texts and dialogue to ‘pathic exchange’ with the only purpose to maintain connections. Blogs have therefor become parts of a rising pathic media culture characterized by individualization, ‘pure relationships’ and commodification of information and social relations.  
This presentation however, will describe blogs written by terminally ill persons and discuss how these offer new opportunities for communication about existential experiences as well as opportunities for people to approach their existential (in)security through exchanging empathy in a networked society. This ongoing research both draws on and moves beyond Zygmunt Bauman’s theory of the rationalization of death in modern society. It does so by adding Lövheim’s theory of ‘empathic communication’ – a communication between bloggers and readers where the value and forms of empathy and mutuality are collectively maintained and transformed – balancing the pathic media culture found and described elsewhere in Internet research and at the same time providing insights into, what Seneca calls, the art of dying in the 2010s". 


Paula Kiel, London School of Economics and Political Science 




Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Un-Controlled Presence: Post-Mortem Digital Interaction

Throughout modernity, the social construction of death was characterised by a tension: on the one hand a desire to eliminate and remove death from everyday life, while on the other, a continuous and ever-lingering presence of the deceased in daily life. In between these conflicting desires, communication technologies have repeatedly triggered fantasies of dismantling boundaries between death and everyday life. 
Most recently, digital platforms such as www.deadsoci.al, www.lifenaut.com and www.liveson.org open up new possibilities of post-mortem forms of interaction that potentially allow an active participation of the dead in users’ everyday lives through digital media. For example, by allowing the dead to “send” emails, “post” on social networking sites and even “engage” in conversations. In so doing, these platforms arguably challenge conceptions of death as stillness, and the association of the dead with silence and absence. 
In this paper, a concept of controlled presence is suggested for studying death in our current moment and conceptualising its distinctive characteristics. For this end, the paper examines post-mortem interaction websites as a site in which social meanings of death and the dead are formed, negotiated and modified in contemporary Western cultures. Employing a multi-modal analysis of websites dedicated to post-mortem interaction, this study explores the characteristics of practices of post-mortem digital interaction, and highlights the changing constructions of death from an excluded and confined experience to one which can be potentially embedded within everyday life. This paper argues that practices of post-mortem digital interaction are potentially reshaping the content, materiality and temporality of contemporary practices of controlling and managing the presence of death, deadness and the dead".

Anu Harju, Aalto University School of Business, Helsinki, Finland



Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"#RIPRobinWilliams - Digital Memorials as Mediators of a ‘Lived Life’

We live in times of affect economy. Death brings us together through mediated participation in online mourning rituals where belonging is achieved through emotional identification with distant others. Mediated rituals have the capacity to evocate a sense of communal belonging. Exploring social media as mediated public space, the study focuses on the meanings assigned to the lives of deceased celebrities. Combining a social constructionist approach with systemic functional linguistics (SFL) analysis, this study examines how a ‘lived life’ is (co)constructed in online memorising and embedded in digital memorials. 
Actor Robin Williams died in August 2014, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in February the same year. Celebrity death disrupts normality, peaking also in social media. Perhaps due to the untimeliness of most famous deaths, they remind people of “what really matters”. This study looks at what kinds of meanings are assigned to the lives lived and lost, how celebrities gain meaning in and by death as these meanings are discursively and collectively constructed in social media and anchored in digital memorials. The study extends our understanding on, first, how digital memorials come to mean, and second, the role of online memorising in a sense of belonging. The empirical material consists of YouTube memorial videos as well as #RIPRobinWilliams and #RIPPhilipSeymourHoffman tweets. The results suggest meanings originate from the lives and needs of the mourning audience more than the actual lives of the celebrities, suggesting that digital memorials, while having a collective function, also harbour deeply personal meanings".

Ariana Mouyiaris 



Ariana was the most powerful experience for me this symposium, and I spent her entire talk wishing I could hug her - which I eventually did. Her brother, Alexis, died in November 2014, the symposium was held in August 2015, and even though everything is so fresh, so stood there and gave an amazing, eloquent talk. I was so mesmerized I didn't write notes during it, which I now regret. She shared what her family went through after his death, and how they had to "dig up" digital clues in order to get some much-needed answers. It was an intellectual presentation but for me it was an emotional one, which is why I remember more of how I felt during her talk and less of what she said. I very much hope to cross paths with her again.

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"A Digital Archaeology: Navigating the Post-Mortem

If to live and to die are abstract, existential questions, the digital remnants and artifacts of a life become increasingly present reminders and spaces for the post-mortem exploration of loved ones and friends. How is this new territory accessed, mediated, manipulated and, ultimately, understood? 
In the wake of my brother’s premature death last November, these issues along with a plethora of legal, moral, bureaucratic obstacles arose. Questions of access, passwords, privacy, public memorializing, sociopathic manipulations of truth and relationships became increasingly amplified and exposed in the public domain. Usage of social media platforms, in particular Instagram and Facebook, as a means of reaching networks to inform and share expressions of the deceased became primary tools and sites for emotional and digital exchange. 
In a society that seeks to keep death on the margins, uncomfortable with accepting and creating rituals to integrate it more fully into the psychology of life, how can the digital allow for a more considered, reflective and positive movement towards catharsis and collective mourning: to create an (in)tangible space for the digital afterlife? This paper seeks to explore an increasingly relevant domain in post-materialist studies and contemporary mourning. Ultimately, what holds meaning and how are memories constructed and reconstructed based on shared digital repositories? How does one’s kin preserve and archive the documents, correspondence, photographs and media (whether music via soundcloud or email accounts) once notifying digital providers of one’s death? 
What are the services that should be offered to help access and trace the activity in the run up to the loss? If there are unresolved details and questions surrounding the death, what new services can arise to help piece together the digital evidence proceeding and surrounding trauma whether for preliminary/pre-criminal investigation or personal grieving? I will largely focus the paper on primary evidence and experience and draw on wider academic and intellectual writings, such as Derrida’s ‘The Work of Mourning’, Socrates and Epicurus".



Participants of Panel session #3
Left to right: Paula, Andréia, Ariana, Anu, Yvonne


Artistic Presentation: Thieves and Swindlers are not allowed in paradise: Jasmine Johnson




Keynote lecture by Wendy MoncurUniversity of Dundee, Scotland 









I loved her talk. The first part of it was so similar to some of the talks I give I felt right at home: "Our digital selves are scattered all over the globe and ownership is unclear". I liked how she stated that "we use the world wide web, but legislation isn't world wide" and her suggestion that "We're dead once we are no longer searched for, or when we come up last in the search results" (Hope I'm not misquoting). I also liked her ideas about digital temporality: creating something digital which will lose pixels over time, like how printed pictures fade with time. She also spoke about digital decay, value in data and posthumous interactions.
The second part was where she took this knowledge to make something with it and out of it, which is a concept I appreciate and respect. 

What you see in these pictures is a prototype which works only when held, which I love. It was made in collaboration with and for a grieving mother, Myra, in remembrance and commemoration of her son, Andrew. 

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Living Digitally

We are increasingly living out aspects of our lives digitally. But what happens when we die? In this keynote, I’ll explain what I mean by a ‘digital life’, comparing it with physical and social human lifespans. I’ll explore the reasons why it is so difficult to completely terminate your digital life, before describing the options for a continuing presence after physical death, both in the memories of others and as a rather more active, even vocal, digital entity".

Panel session 4: Digital afterlife and digital legacy

Panel Chair: Jo Bell, University of Hull
  • Remains in the System: recounting the lives of data in mourningSelina Ellis Gray, Lancaster University
  • The Media End: The Digital Afterlife and the Ending of Social Media – Contours of our Digital ThrownessAmanda Lagerkvist, Stockholm University
  • Erasure and the datafied selfAudrey Samson, City University of Hong Kong


Selina Ellis Gray, Lancaster University



I love her work and was delighted to get to see some of it

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Remains in the System: Recounting the Lives of Data in Mourning

What happens if we think about our digital legacies, not as a static collection of data that people abandon in death, but as a mass of remains that ‘live on’ within a range of digital networks? This question has underpinned my doctoral research and methodological approach, prompting the development of a PhD, which looks towards what ‘Remains in the System’. In this doctoral study I engaged in a multi-sited ethnography online in order to empirically follow the ‘lives’ of data across a three year period. These observations of data included a range of photographs, status updates, videos, poems, audio files, biographical accounts and so forth, from their early inception, through to their decay. In this presentation I want to recount core findings from a chapter called: ‘When Loss Remains’, which overviews a 25 year history of mourning online. The work begins in 1990 and outlines the first known example of death online, accounts of mourning and the issue of data within a Virtual Community. I will then discuss the early practices of loss that transitioned onto the World Wide Web and developed within the first free user generated sites in the mid 1990’s. Moving to reveal a multitude of sites which are still active 18 years after they first emerged. Finally I discuss the transition of data from these first user generated sites onto contemporary social networks in order to give an insight into the diversity of practices online. Accounting for the lives of data amongst a historical frame of mourning online, will not only bring a different perspective to the issue of digital legacy, but also, prompts us to think about the materiality of data. How it can persist, become entangled or lost in unexpected and surprising ways".


Amanda Lagerkvist, Stockholm University



Amanda's talk was fascinating as well. She discussed how some people wish to end social media presence, not to prolong it. Her mention of "Digital Data Funerals" was a great lead towards Audrey's talk next.

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"The Media End: The Digital Afterlife and the Ending of Social Media – Contours of our Digital Throwness

"In reiterating the nitty-gritty of a classic article in death studies by Tony Walter “Sociologists never die”, one may propose that for media studies proper, there is no proper end. Due to its limited modernist and rational foundations, death itself has only recently become focused in the field, and remains marginal.
For a certain strand of media studies ‘improper’ on the other hand there is nothing but the end, as it is preoccupied with posthuman fictionalizations of a fossilized media future, and a memory of our civilisation, after we have died out. Suspending these alternatives, this paper launches an existential approach and argues that the digital has become a cultural form wherein we face endings, death, as well as phenomena of ‘the digital afterlife.’ These entail our fundamental thrownness \ through those defining and eternal ‘limit-situations’ that have assumed a partially different shape in digital culture. Much attention has been paid to online memorialization in the death online context. A less discussed countertendency is the prevailing need of closure and ending of social media. In zooming in on two contrasting cases: the market rhetoric of a digital afterlife actant, and the invisible market strategy of a company that offers the service to entirely end the social media life of the dead, I will sketch out the contours of our digital thrownness and how it, despite or because of our posthuman condition, both demands our agency and triggers a register of affective engagement. 
This will result in a typology of the digital afterlife, and in an outline of key features of its structure of feeling, entailing 1) meaningful memorialization and the quest for ‘existential security’ 2) a spooky intermediary realm of reflex bodily engagement and affect 3) a space of temporal crisis of returnings and of the enduring ephemeral and 4) a space managerial reasoning 5) and finally a case of re-enchantment at play, even in the most unlikely of places – in the posthuman archive".


Audrey Samson, City University of Hong Kong


Picture by Jakob Sabra





Audrey was the perfect way to end the symposium. What she did in "Goodnight Sweetheart
and "ne.me.quitte(s).pas" is fascinating and thought provoking. 



Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Erasure and the Datafied Self 

The following research is concerned with what kind of role the materiality of Internet technologies plays in post-mortem digital legacy (also called digital death), and how digital data bleeds into our mourning practices. It explores these questions by examining how Facebook and Google deal with digital death, and what kind of consequences the materiality of the network entails. The notions of materiality are understood here as a space of interaction between code and hardware and perceived materialisation of phenomena iteratively configured by dynamics of ‘intraactions’. In the examples considered I look at how terms of conditions apply to memory in the form of externalised tertiary retention in the process of “grammatization”. I also consider how the technical infrastructure and code of these frameworks contribute to what Wendy Chun’s calls “undead media”, and therefore how the persistence of media affects how we remember. The research also looks at the biological human memory’s materiality and its need to forget . Ultimately I propose digital data funerals as an artistic strategy to make data tangible and to explore how these layers of stockpiled data constantly re-configure our identities. Digital data funerals offer a symbolic gesture that draws attention to the materiality of data through tangible and physical degradation, in an attempt to surpass post-mortem datafication, and surveillance".


And then it was time for some closing remarks!

The next Death Online Research Symposium, DORS3, shall take place in Denmark in October 2016. Thank you Dorthe Refslund Christensen from Aarhus for taking it upon yourself to organize it. 


Korina Giaxoglou and Stine Gotved (with her back to us) 

I wish to take this opportunity to again thank Korina Giaxoglou and Stacey Pitsillides for taking it upon themselves to organize this symposium and to thank them and everyone who presented and attended for making it such an interesting and successful one. 

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  2. The research also looks at the biological human memory’s materiality and its need to forget . Ultimately I propose digital data funerals as an artistic strategy to make data tangible and to explore how these layers of stockpiled data constantly re-configure our identities. summarizing powerpoint

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