All the content in the blog is available free of charge and can be found in the menu to the left.
Please feel free to scroll down in order to become acquainted with all the content which might possibly be of interest or of service to you


My Summary of 'Death Online Research Symposium', April 2014, Durham, UK - Day 1

First, I wish to thank the readers of the blog who participated in my crowdfunding campaign and thus allowed me to travel to the UK and participate in the symposium

Me at the 'Death Online Research Symposium', Durham
Picture by Astrid Waagstein

Second, I wish to share one of my personal highlights from this trip: being able to walk into a place and say: "Hi, I'm with the Death Online Conference Group", so thank you for that experienec, Tim :) .

Print screen of email

Third, I wish to thank the organizers and and my fellow attendees for the symposium (a total of about 40 people), as it definitely broadened my perception of what 'Digital Death' or 'Death Online' IS. It was great meeting some of my friends and colleagues from the 'Digital Death Day' unconference I attended in 2012 as well as making new ones: 

Left to right: 
Stacey Pitsillides, Korina Giaxoglou, Mórna O Connor and me
Train ride back from Durham

But now let's move on to the symposium itself: 

Getting ready to start!
Picture by Astrid Waagstein

Day 1 - April 9th

  • Opening Reflections: Douglas Davies and David Eaton, UK
  • Paper Session 1: "Digital Media in Funerals and Graveyards"
         Session Chair: Dorthe Refslund Christensen
    • "The humanist funeral practitioner’s perspective": Simon Allen, UK
    • "QR-codes on Danish gravestones: issues of privacy with public access": Stine Gotved, Denmark
    • "The living dead? Graveyards and augmented reality": Phillip Wane, UK
All three talks were fascinating for me. 

Simon Allen:


 Simon Allen explaining how chapels and crematoriums etc. have modernized themselves and digitalized their services

I wasn't aware of the digital implications in this area of death. Simon shared anecdotes ranging from funny to moving: a smartphone used as a source for playing music during a ceremony, at the request of a family member, ringing in the middle of the ceremony while connected to the speakers; family members taking selfies at funerals or crematoriums etc..

Here are some quotes from his abstract:

"The Humanist Funeral Practioner’s Perspective
 Across 22 plus years of taking Humanist funerals, the progression of digital technologies continues unabated. Apart from the obvious use of digital technology within the funeral and disposal trades, every secular Officiant and religious minister uses technology in ways that could not have been imagined 30 years ago. I recall these particular examples of the first time that I saw:

  1. Families use e-mail to send me text and images: Now standard and they also send me music tracks. 
  2. No audio tape or CD players at crematoria: Now standard, as well as fully digital music play-out systems. 
  3. A family used analogue video camera to record the funeral: Now they use iPads, digital cameras and Smartphones. 
  4. Showing analogue video/slide show of the deceased: Now some Crems have digital projectors and 55” flat screens. Commercial companies offer this service. 
  5. Webcasting of funerals started in The Netherlands: Now many UK Crems have webcasting facilities. 
  6. A family defeated by the passwords of their son, an IT professional, so there were very few at the funeral as they could not notify his friends: Public recognition of the problem. 
  7. I am referred to Facebook and given temporary membership of their pages to gather information and view images: Now a commonplace, also sent comments from other social media. 
  8. Audio conferencing during my family visit to include those far away: Family now use video Skype, to include a relative overseas. 
  9. A grandchild reading his tribute direct from his Smartphone: Now a commonplace, also Tablets. 
  10. Mourners taking still photographs of the coffin before, during and after the funeral. Also, photos of the floral tributes: Now a commonplace, although usually on Smartphones. Commercial companies offer this service".

Scroll down for a short video. 

Prof. Stine Gotved:

Stine Gotved presenting her research about the usage of QR barcodes on graves in Denmark. 

I've been mentioning QR codes on graves in my talks since 2012, and it was interesting for me to hear about Denmark's current take of this issue. We have QR codes on graves in Israel as well, since 2011 (at least): 

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"QR-codes on Danish Gravestones: Issues of Privacy with Public Access
In our digital age, even the gravestones offer online access. With the epicenter in Japan (2004), QR-codes on gravestones is a slowly spreading global phenomenon, changing our perceptions and traditions around the physical death and the related memorials. The gravestone is simultaneously physical and digital, the visitors to the grave can venture into a digital dimension while there, and the descendants are free to change the stone's content over time. Thus, the areas of physical death, mourning, and memorials are under transition due to pervasive technology, a growing culture of digital sharing, and persistent performances of individuality.
The cemetery as a secluded space is challenged by pervasive communication technology, and presumably, today most visitors bring their mobile phone. More often than not, the phone includes a camera, and the ever-growing amount of smartphones further have the possibility of applications for scanning QR-codes. Related to the dispersion of such mobile technology, QR-codes on gravestones have entered the cemeteries under the radar. No authorities have been involved, no act of regulation is passed, no priest seem to bother. Nevertheless, the article argues a fundamental shift in issues related to privacy, both offline and online. First, the stonecutters (who in Denmark sell, deliver and host the QR-codes as part of their service) have different ways of presenting the possibility to their customers, invoking various issues of privacy in the process. Second, the cemetery get subtle shifts in spatiality. Now there is a digital dimension with accessible content to enhance the existing infospace (primarily name and life span). Also, the downloads might transgress the privacy of the moment by disturbing other mourners at nearby graves. Third, the content behind the QR- code can be more or less private, most likely directed at family and friends of the deceased, rather than strangers (including researchers) passing by and downloading".

Phillip Wane

Phil wane demonstrating the usage of augmented reality with graves and tombstones. 

While I have heard of augmented reality before, for me it was the first time to "see it in action", and I was very impressed. Maybe this is the current future of headstones, until the next and newer technology will come along? 

Here are some quotes from his abstract:

"The Living Dead? Graveyards and Augmented Reality

This early stage research looks into the potential of commercially available Augmented Reality (AR) applications to allow visitors to cemeteries and other memorials to view relevant images. The author has experimented with the free Aurasma application, which allows users to overlay an augmented reality image onto a physical object when viewed through a mobile phone. One of the big advantages of AR applications over other approaches, such as the addition of Quick Response (QR) or Bar codes to headstones, is that nothing needs to be added to existing physical artefacts. It would also be possible to tailor the information based upon individual needs, for instance a family member might view one image and a member of the general public might view another. This might prove particularly useful where the deceased had a high public profile or where an organisation might want to provide AR information. For instance visitors to Commonwealth War Graves sites could call up images of the deceased, war records, or information about the campaign (where available). Especially timely given the approaching anniversary of the First World War.

The author began to investigate this area following the death of his own parents at separate times in 2009. The modest cremation headstone seemed insufficient (but was all that was permitted) so the idea of using an AR application to allow family members to see and, possibly even hear the deceased (via video clips) without having to physically change the headstone was compelling. The author tried some initial experiments which were crude but successful using the free software to call up images when a mobile phone was pointed at family headstones and the local cenotaph (the author’s father having had his photograph taken there). There are now commercial services looking to exploit the potential of AR in cemeteries (such as Digital Memorial), other pilot projects include the REACT FutureCemetery Project and large national war cemeteries have introduced applications to help visitors, though not always with full AR (Arlington National Cemetery in the United States). Whether from an individual perspective, or from a formal historical one, AR has the potential to enrich the visitor experience to cemeteries".

You can see a short video I filmed at the symposium with Simon Allen and Phillip Wane here

    • "Memorials, commemorative practices and digital games": Martin Gibbs, Michael Arnol and Bjorn Nansen, Australia
    • "Challenging mortality: committing suicide in digital games": Karin Wenz, The Netherlands
    • "RIP James and Lily Potter or 65.000 tweets about death that did not happen: real commemoration of a fictional event in digital communication space": Ilze Borodkina, Latvia

All three talks were very interesting for me. 

Dr. Martin Gibbs

Martin Gibbs talking about gaming, gamers and death

I wrote about gamers memoralization before (Jon 'NEVERDIE' Jacobs and Tina Lieu, James Payne) and this was a good opportunity for me to become acquainted with more stories and angles. 

Here are some quotes from their abstract (Martin presented by himself):

"Memorials, Commemorative Practices and Digital Games

As people devote more leisure time to online video games, and as they form social relations associated with these media, it is unsurprising to find that these games become vehicles for expressing grief and for memorializing the dead. These games provide a social context in life, and they also provide a social context for people's attention to death. Many examples of funeral rites that act to memorialize the dead are conducted within multiplayer games and are documented through player-generated materials posted to video hosting sites such as YouTube. Much like book dedications, the developers of games also have been known to place epitaphs and mementos acknowledging the deceased within games. Sometimes these can take the form of a dedication in the manual, or in release notes for the game. More interestingly, developers have placed memorials within games. In some cases these memorials take the form of "Easter eggs" — text, images or sounds hidden away within the game. For example, deceased developers, players and fans of particular games have been represented as non-player characters in games such as World of Warcraft, Rome Total War II and Borderlands 2. Other memorials are more explicit. For example, memorials to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the co-creators of Dungeons and Dragons, were added to Dungeon and Dragons Online shortly after their deaths in 2008 and 2009.

Online game engines provide game developers with a range of materials for memorialization. These memorials can invoke the semiotics of traditional stone monuments, gravestones, and cenotaphs. They can also connote a form of mummification through the preservation of avatars. They can also take dramaturgical forms, drawing players into interactive stories that honor, evoke and recall the deceased. Multiplayer online games also provide players with the opportunity to commemorate deceased players through ritual-like practices within the game".  

Dr. Karin Wenz

I'm not a gamer but I have several friends who are. I think that through meeting Karin, people will take gaming and gamers more seriously, which makes her a good ambassador to those communities (even if it is not her intention - she is simply being herself, which includes being a gamer). 
Listening to her talk reminded me of a genre of games I read about in which the character of the player "really" dies - that is, his/her avatar dies, and the player has to start all over again: the character can't "resurrect" as avatars in games usually do. Gamers refer to it as "permadeath".  

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Challenging Mortality: Committing Suicide in Digital Games

This contribution discusses the function of dying and committing suicide in digital games. Games challenge the concept of mortality as they offer replay as the player can return to the last safe point, be resurrected or simply start over again. The question whether the player or the game are in control are in focus of this presentation. How players gain control through replay and counterplay strategies as committing suicide is opposed to the game's impact on the player to adapt to the affordances of the game.

The omnipresence of death and dying in digital games can be seen as based in the computer's ontology. Do we understand the computer as a simulation machine then we challenge the concept of mortality. While symbolic representations of death in novels or movies allow for an imaginary examination of death and dying and philosophical questions of mortality, digital games differ in their death simulations. They hinder this reflection and examination because of their replay function as this highlights repeatability without consequences. What games add, however, different to death in novels or movies is the observation of the own death, even though it is just the own avatar dying. As the player is still able to resurrect and continue playing, death is connected to control and gains an airiness that is reflected in gaming practices as committing suicide in game. The amount of suicide gaming videos on YouTube shows how the experience of dying is central for some players of games and how they try to find out which and how many ways there are in a game to commit suicide. This can be described as counterplay, a concept that is used to describe a way to play a game against its rules or against the intention of the designers. Counterplay means using the in-built game algorithm not for solving tasks given by the game but using the game for something else than expected. Instead of fighting monsters or another team of players and submitting to the game’s affordances players can use the game environment for different performances. Instead of submitting to the game the players take over control and try out what else the game environment can be used for. Being in control while facing the loss of control is central for suicides in game". 

Ilze Borodkina

Ilze Borodkina talking about virtually grieving for fictional characters

I wasn't aware of this prior to her talk, but turns out we not only have virtual grieving for people who are still alive and virtual grieving for people who are no longer alive, but also virtaul grieving for people who were never alive - such as characters in a book

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"R.I.P. James and Lily Potter or 65.000 Tweets about Death that did not Happen: Real Commemoration of a Fictional Event in Digital Communication Space

The book series about Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling and especially the last book has assigned a special meaning to October 31st, 1981, that the writer has chosen as the day when parents of main hero died. Although just five years ago this fact was yet unknown and twenty years ago even the fantasy world that these characters inhabit was not created, on October 31, 2011 the digital communication space experienced commemorative activities of different formats with the goal of recognizing 30th anniversary of James and Lily Potters’ death. The intensity of these activities reached a level, where, for example, phrase RIP James and Lily Potter not only appeared on the list of trending topics in Twitter, but even was brought to the position Nr.1. In this sense, Potters became equal to other celebrities whose deaths initiated massive online mourning campaigns like Michael Jackson or Amy Winehouse, with the only difference being that they actually never lived.
To gain a deeper insight into this phenomena, 65,483 tweets containing the above mentioned trending phrase were archived during approximately 24 hours, and analyzed within the framework of grounded theory".

And now, let's step outside, where you can see a picture of Ilze and me: 

Ilze Borodkina and me, Durham
Picture by Jakob Borrits Sabra 

My summary of day 2 - April 10th can be found here.

Most pictures taken by me unless otherwise specified. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.