Death + Popular Culture Death + Technology Death + the Web

Everything Oldish is New Again: Generation Y Re-discovers the World Wide Web of Death

An Online Generation Redefines Mourning
Expressions of grief take on many public forms in the digital age.
By Hannah Seligson, New York Times (March 21, 2014)

It was inevitable, I suppose. At a certain point early 21st-century humans would begin doing things with computer technology that their long lost late 20th-century cousins did roughly twenty years earlier.

And lo, it has come to pass with death and the internet.

The New York Times has a Fashion & Style feature on how the kids are using the world wide web to discuss death, loss, the end-of-life, grieving, etc.

Three observations:

  1. Anytime the Grey Lady describes something as fashionable then it’s almost certainly dead. Irony of ironies, given the article’s subject.
  2. Death Ref’s good friend Caitlin Doughty from Ask a Mortician and the Order of the Good Death is quoted in the article and that’s always good to see.
  3. Using the internet, the web, computers, digital technology, communication technology writ large to discuss death, loss, the end-of-life, grieving, etc. is not new. Indeed, humans have been using the interweb to discuss death since the early days of html and Netscape.

…Dramatic Pause…

We need to go back in time now, to a long-forgotten-about age when people still said Information Superhighway without irony or smirking. That’s right, we’re headed back to the mid-1990s.

As soon as the ‘web’ became a viable entity, largely because of the browsers Mosaic and then Netscape, individual users began creating websites about death.

It is also important to point out that everything happening in the late 20th-century also built on technology used during the 19th-century (e.g., telegraph communication, photography, rail transport, etc.) but I’ll stick with the 1990’s for now.

In 1996, a television show called the Internet Cafe began a run on American Public Television. The programme was later re-named the Net Cafe and it lasted until 2002. Think of it as the paleo-YouTube.

Two years into the Internet Cafe’s existence, on June 26, 1998 (historical aside: Bill Clinton wouldn’t be impeached until December 19, 1998 but most television footage was about the Starr Report), it aired a programme called Grim Reaper Web Sites.

As the title suggests, the entire show examines how people are using the world wide web to discuss a long list of death topics and issues. My particular favourite is the guy who creates a memorial website for Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia.

The moral of our time-traveling tale is this: We humans began using the internet and web as soon as we could to discuss death. Why? Because that’s what we do with all communication technology. The technology will always change but death itself remains predictably guaranteed and discussed.

But don’t take my word for it, you can WATCH this episode of the Internet Cafe because of the always wonderful Internet Archive.

Here is a direct link to the Grim Reaper programme.

I also embedded the show at the bottom of the page.

The 1990’s live dude.

And if you’re interested in the history (both old and new) of death and technology then check out Death Ref’s Death + Technology page.

I’ll be giving a talk on these death technology issues (and other things) at the upcoming UK Death Salon.

One final point. In another twenty or thirty years I firmly believe that an intrepid reporter for the New York Times will write an article about whatever technology exists at that time (our computer overlords, most likely) and how the kids are using it to discuss death.

The rest will be silence.

Death + Popular Culture Death + the Law Death + the Web

Poor Dead Steve Jobs May Not Own His Dead Image

Who Owns Your Image After You Die?
On the Media (January 13, 2012)

Here’s a really interesting radio story by WNYC’s On the Media about what happens to an individual’s image after he or she dies. A Chinese toy manufacturer wants to create a Steve Jobs action figure. Apple successfully blocked a similar product in 2010 but may not be so lucky now that Jobs is deceased–with his “personality rights” with him.

steve1Add these concerns to the long list of postmortem digital media ownership rights. It also turns out that each state across America has different laws for handling these situations. The main interviewee for the story, Jeff Roberts, does a good job explaining how the state-by-state laws work.

Keep an eye on this story. As more and more of everything shifts to a digital format then the very idea of an “owned image” will be challenged.

Indeed, it’s a situation Steve Jobs helped create.

Cemeteries Death + Technology Monuments + Memorials

Virtual Graves for Armistice Day

How to visit a Virtual Grave
Alison Winward, The Guardian (November 10, 2010)


Armistice Day Marked Around the World – In Pictures
The Guardian (November 11, 2011)


The War Graves Photographic Project
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

A quick post for Armistice Day (in the UK), Veterans Day (in the US) and Remembrance Day (in Canada). A few years ago, volunteers began amassing online photos for The War Graves Photographic Project. People can search online for graves all over the world and see images of the gravestones. The Guardian article at the top discusses the project and how it got started.

As of right now, it looks like the graves are only for the UK and Commonwealth Nations. That said, it seems like something which will catch on in America.

Thanks Veterans, one and all.

— The Death Reference Desk.

Death + Popular Culture Death + Technology Death + the Web

Digital Death Day: London Calling

Digital Death Day London
Saturday, October 9th 9am-5pm
Centre for Creative Collaboration
University of London
16 Acton Street
(King’s Cross Station)
WC1X 9NG London

Last May, Meg wrote up a really interesting piece on a Digital Death Day un-conference in California. That post, Digital Death Day is Every Day, is part of Death Ref’s ongoing coverage of all things postmortem and online. See, for example, the Death + the Web section of the website.

Meg, Kim, and I were all disappointed that we missed the Digital Death Day since the organizers outlined a number of topics that the three of us follow:

Death is a part of life and life has (to an extent) become digital.

This un-conference will be primarily concerned with provoking discourse around the social, cultural and practical implications of Death in the Digital World. Thus stimulating a reconsideration of how death, mourning, memories and history are currently being augmented in our technologically mediated society.

The archiving, networking and post mortem engagement of ‘digital remains’ leads us to consider what place digital information has in our lives legally, sentimentally and historically.

But then something oh-so-exciting happened: a second Digital Death Day event was announced and this one will be in London.

Good old London.

Lots of death and dead bodies in that city.

Here is the official .pdf invitation for Digital Death Day London.

Meg, Kim, and I want a strong showing from our UK Death Reference Desk readers. Indeed, I’ll be able to attend this next Digital Death Day since Bath (where I live) is just a hop, skip, and a jump for old smokey.

The trick with all these ongoing discussions about how death has changed due to digital technologies is that we Homo sapiens are still in the middle of the forest on this one.

As Meg once succinctly put it: How long is forever on the internet?

So there you have it.

I look forward to engaging in all these postmortem discussion topics on October 9 and please, please come up and say hello.

Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture

Video Game Ways to Die

King's Quest III

I am not a gamer. All those newfangled surround sound polygons make me want to hurl. But as a plucky youth with a computer geek dad, I had the fond and formative experience of devouring Sierra computer adventure games, especially the King’s Quest series.

I recently discovered via MetaFilter that a handful of painstaking souls have recorded and compiled all the various ways to die in these games and several others. In particular, YouTuber MrWhitman has posted dozens of retro game “Ways to Die.”

Ah, King's Quest! Instilling bad puns and ogre fear in children of the '80s everywhere!
Ah, King's Quest! Instilling bad puns and ogre fear in children of the '80s everywhere!

Reliving the King’s Quest deaths with nostalgic glee, I can’t help but recognize that, given the care in capturing every death in a wide range of titles, even and especially when that death is terminally boring, Ways to Die videos are more than just for the laffs and (perhaps) reminiscing the age of less gruesome gameplay. It is also about documentation — the compilation and collocation of information, even if that information seems trivial.

How is it important or useful? I’m not exactly sure. And yet, I approve — not just for the jolt back to childhood, but the belief that in some weird way, this is a cultural and generational transmission. Back in the olden days, you could die from a scratch from a scraggly 8-bit scribble, and it would devastate you.

King's Quest II

And like the games of today, discovering all the creative and absurd ways to off yourself is just as challenging and fun as avoiding it. Are these expressions of thanatos, exploring death and dying in a safe environment? Or perhaps just getting one’s money worth? After all, once immersed in a spellbinding narrative and mesmerizing virtual world, you never want the game to end — even if that means finding every way possible to die in it.