The Digital Gravestone: Technology, Temporality and Memorial

By Jen Turner

Less than a week ago, people across the world remembered events of 9/11 in all manner of ways, ranging from simple recognition of the date to a minute of silent reflection.  Two days later, Google illustrated a different take on memorialisation by displaying a tribute to German composer Clara Schumann, in the form of their infamous ‘Google Doodle’. 

A recent article in The Guardian considers how humans have always harnessed the latest technology to develop ingenious methods of memorialising people and events.   Here, Melanie King discusses the wealth of new enterprises available to the discerning mourner, including the transformation of cremated remains into diamonds or tattoos.  King also describes how age-old traditions have been dragged into the 21st Century using “hi-tech gimmickry”.  One Dorset-based funeral home offers the service of attaching a QR (quick response) barcode to a gravestone or memorial plaque.  This can then be scanned by a Smartphone, bringing “the deceased digitally to life” in the form of a full obituary and photographs at a cost of £300. 

Similarly, the BBC reported last year of the prevalence of tribute pages on sites like Facebook, particularly in cases where young people die suddenly.  Their report commented that, “with so many people having an online life, it seems appropriate that they are given a form of online funeral when they die”.  Online media has also stimulated other kinds of remembrance, such as the Twibbon Royal British Legion’s official poppy, which can be added to Twitter user pictures to commemorate war deaths.  As accessible and versatile as these technologies now are, King highlights an important criticism.  The advancement of technology means that today’s innovations may become obsolete tomorrow.  The digital gravestone relies on the continuity of the QR code, which could easily be replaced by something more ingenious.  What will then happen to those obituary memories and photographs trapped behind that barcode?

The temporality of memorials is discussed in a recent Area paper by Jenkings, Megoran, Woodward, and Bos (2012).  Here, focus is upon the processes of memorialisation in the English village of Wootton Bassett, which emerged as a site to honour British military personnel killed in action.  Located near to RAF Lyneham, cortèges carrying repatriated service-men and -women passed through the town, greeted by assembling masses of silent people.  The paper pays particular attention to the town as a place where contemporary engagements with militarism and the meanings of war are negotiated.  In contextualising this, Jenkings et al discuss the end of commemorative services following the repatriation of personnel to a different air base – highlighting the town as another ‘temporally variable’ space of death. 

Considering this in relation to the technological advancement of memorial practice, we can question the impact of creating memorial attachments to changeable objects and spaces. 

Jenkings, K.N., Megoran, N., Woodward, R. & Bos, D., 2012, Wootton Bassett and the political spaces of remembrance and mourning, Area 44.3 356-363

Remembrance in the internet age, BBC News, 11 November 2011

The digital gravestone, The Guardian, 9 September 2012

2 thoughts on “The Digital Gravestone: Technology, Temporality and Memorial

  1. Richard Longworth

    Hi Jen

    I’ve read the article with interest as I’m the founder of The Digital Memorial Plaque. I wanted to help you with one of your questions:-

    ‘The digital gravestone relies on the continuity of the QR code, which could easily be replaced by something more ingenious. What will then happen to those obituary memories and photographs trapped behind that barcode?’

    That is a question that comes up often and is a slight mis conception of the technology. Information does not become trapped behind QR codes but can easily be re directed to the new technology if and when it comes along. QR codes are a simple method for bricks to online connection but maybe supersided in the future, at Digital Memorial we have ensured all files are transferable to ensure tributes will always be available.

    Reply

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