The New Face of Death

June 24 2008 / by Jeff Hilford
Category: Culture   Year: 2008   Rating: 7 Hot

Death increasingly has a new face. One that endures. One that has a life of its own.

George Carlin died Sunday. He was an innovator and a provocateur and at his best, pretty damn funny. He’s also illustrative of a developing trend – the public, multimedia epitaph. In fact, he recorded the way he would like his obituary to be, how he would like to be remembered, in this Associated Press interview 10 years ago.

This is a trend that really began with videotape, often used to read wills and say goodbye to loved ones. Now there are sites like Respectance that memorialize people in perpetuity, that people can add to in terms of memories, stories, pictures, video, etc. Where people who were brought together through that person can still connect. Social media sites. We also see this on facebook and myspace. (cont.)

These sites also serve to retro-actively quantify people. Improvement in these types of social forensic tools and methods coupled with our desire to answer life’s biggest questions – Who are we? Where did we come from? What is my ancestry? – as well as to know more about other individuals, are driving this trend. Piece by piece, step by step we puzzle this together, not knowing if we’ll ever find any ultimate answers but discovering more and more about ourselves and others along the way. Sites like Geni are part of this equation. They allow us to find out who we are/were related to and, as we unravel the secret records hidden in our DNA, begin to understand how we are all connected and that even on a planet of 6 billion people, it’s still a small world.

As life extension, immortality and transhumanism movements and technologies grow – as people try harder and harder to preserve health, stave off death and garner insurance in the event that they do die or suffer serious injury, the notion of death is increasingly changing in our society and becoming a topic of passionate discourse. Issues of abortion and euthanasia have generated great controversy with regard to ethics and rights. But powerful changes in technology are bringing new issues to the forefront and the ethical and social reverberations of these are only just beginning to be felt.

Comment Thread (3 Responses)

  1. Great piece and awesome find re: the Receptance website. Surely the next versions of such social media/wiki sites will become richer, with more data, simulations (3D images, behavior, etc), related links (sorted by increasingly better search), friend & family info, and so forth. At some point it will get downright freaky, but at the same time it will all serve some socio-evolutionary purpose, possibly the construction of expansive ancestral or historical simulations that people will be able to immersively engage with.

    Those that are interested in this topic might also want to check out the Requiem reality TV show idea on this list of possible future tv shows.

    Posted by: Alvis Brigis   June 24, 2008
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  2. Thanks Vis – should’ve remembered to add a link to Requiem.

    Through the use of cheaper, more prevalent ICTs, we’re able to capture greater amounts of people’s lives – en route to lifelogging. Companies like wordspicturesstories.com help people produce biographies and ones like Receptance use the power of web 2.0 to do so. This can help people create much richer multimedia memories of loved ones.

    I think we’ll also see a concerted effort to keep people’s dna and attempts to capture more personality traits as the ability to simulate humans increases in the years to come.

    Posted by: Jeff Hilford   June 24, 2008
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