Digital Cemeteries: Will they replace cemeteries?

Last week on Friday, I posted about technology and death, specifically social technology like Facebook and apps like If I Die.  From there, I linked to an article that addressed the idea of Facebook as the first major e-cemetery.  While I find this to be an interesting view, I find myself agreeing more with a commentator (from a Reddit thread) who equated it (Facebook pages of deceased users) with a “modern photo album, …hav[ing] all the profiles stored away in an ‘Attic’ of sorts.”  Rather than seeing Facebook as an e-cemetery, I see it as the digital equivalent to photo albums and scrapbooks–maybe even a memorial–chronicling the life of its users.

Although Facebook has a memorialization process, I do not believe that “Facebook has replaced the cemetery – as a place for people to go and remember,” as Arlene, in an interview with the Daily Dot, phrased it.  Maybe in 20 or 30 years this could be the case, depending on the trajectory of technology and its impact on humanity.  However, even then, I see a site like FindAGrave.com, which provides anyone with internet access the ability to find the graves of ancestors complete with photos, the ability to create virtual memorials, add ‘virtual flowers’ and add a note to a loved one’s grave, replacing the cemetery and a trip to a loved ones burial place rather than Facebook.

With all that being said, the digital supplanting the real is hard for me to really fathom.  Why? Well, consider this: in most cultures, there is a belief that there is something in humans that lives beyond the death of the corporal body.  This belief signifies that we want to believe there is something special about us and that there is more than our mortal existence, that there is something more to everything. This reinforces the idea that people are innate meaning-makers.  I think this is a universal human phenomena.  And thus, I believe there is something to be said about this. 

Humans seek to make memorials.  Market research has shown time and time again that families seek funeral service to meet their emotional needs; families pay for value and are interested in creating memories rather than just simply having a funeral service (Gould 2010).  It is this tendency (creating meaning/ seeking to create memorials) that begets the human need to make pilgrimages–whether it be literal, metaphorical and purely cerebral, or a little of both.  As humans we do not, and cannot, live entirely within our minds.  Many memories are tied to physical places or other physical aspects of the world as perceived by the senses.  Coupling this with our culture’s desire for immortality, often acomplished through the leaving of a legacy and some sort of physical death memorial, it becomes a little more evident at least for me that these “digital places to go and remember” (likely) will not replace the cemetery in its entirety. Or at least not any time soon.

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