Death + Technology Death + the Web Funeral Industry

Webcasting Killed the Funeral Star

For the Funeral Too Distant, Mourners Gather on the Web
Laura M. Holson, The New York Times (January 25, 2011)
Webcast funerals reach more friends and family members and reflect the fact that people are living more and more online.

In January 2010, Meg posted some articles and a video about webcasting funeral services. Now, in January 2011, the New York Times is finally catching up to the postmortem future laid bare by ye olde Death Reference Desk.

Yet again, the Gray Lady is reporting on a story that is not particularly new. Or, at least, a new story for the funeral industry. I first read about webcasting funerals in 2002. Indeed, the funeral industry trade journals all discuss webscasting and webpresence and web death (for lack of a better term) nonstop.

The great irony of funeral webcasting (for me at least) is that the modern American funeral developed around waiting for people to arrive for a funeral. One of the reasons embalming became so prevalent in US funerals was that it allowed the preserved dead body to be shipped on a train without decomposing. Embalming also created time for the next-of-kin to arrive for a funeral, without worrying that prolonged travel would cause problems with the body. So, in nutshell, the modern funeral developed around travel time to funerals.

Postmortem Space and Time was expanded.

Webcasting inverts the whole situation. The need for travel time or to ship the body is being greatly reduced. There isn’t anything good or bad with this situation. It does mean that more people will have access to a funeral (given access to the required technology) and that’s certainly better than nothing.

And the webcasting trend is most certainly the future for most funeral services.

The question I always ask myself is this: What is lost by not attending the funeral in person? If anything? Given the choice, I will always attend a funeral in person. My own personal interactions with the other attendees and the deceased individual are important experiences.

I say all this now but I have strong suspicion that in the coming years I will end up “attending” a webcast funeral.

It seems inevitable at this point.

In an effort to find a YouTube video of an actual funeral being webcast I came across the follow advert. This was not entirely what I wanted to use…but it was too good to pass up.

Death + Technology Death + the Web Funeral Industry

TiVo Grief with Funeral Webcasting

Funeral Webcasting – Can’t Attend a Memorial Service?

via The Consumerist, “Now You Can Attend Funerals Live Over the Internet”

Laura Northrup at the Consumerist recently blogged about funeral webcasting with this video from Chris Hill at Weirdly, the vid seems aimed at those in need of services for loved ones while the accompanying webpage is targeted at funeral directors (i.e., getting a funeral home set up with “Pre-Screened and Qualified™ Preferred Providers” — yes, that is actually their trademark).

Anyway, reasons for being unable to attend a funeral include being poor, old, sick or riffraff:

Specific details are scarce — I imagine it depends on the local Pre-Screened and Qualified™ Preferred Providers. Nonetheless, it seems to target those who don’t really understand how the internet works (you can watch it anywhere! even the library!). I also frown that he emphasizes that services are archived up to 90 days as though that’s a bonus and not a ripoff — you can be sure for an extra fee you can extend your access to final farewells if not purchase a DVD.

Cynicism aside, this is not a bad idea, at least for those physically unable to make it to a funeral. When it’s used as a tool of convenience, however — or as an excuse to not need to put aside differences and invite the family baddies and black sheep — the idea turns crass and cold. Funerals are about gathering and remembering together — not about watching other people gather and remember on the internet, whenever you happen to find the time to tune in and grieve.