a great-grandson discovers documents about his great grandfather. Creates a Facebook profile for him. Fascinating way to memorialise the past in the present.
timely. just finished editing the chapter on death yesterday.
Walter, T., Hourizi, R., Moncur, W. and Pitsillides, S. (2011). Does the internet change how we die and mourn? An overview. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 64(4): 275-302.
full text (pdf)
Very interesting overview of recent research. Here’s the abstract:
The article outlines the issues that the internet presents to death studies. Part 1 describes a range of online practices that may affect dying, the funeral, grief and memorialisation, inheritance and archaeology; it also summarises the kinds of research that have been done in these fields. Part 2 argues that these new online practices have implications for, and may be illuminated by, key concepts in death studies: the sequestration (or separation from everyday life) of death and dying, disenfranchisement of grief, private grief, social death, illness and grief narratives, continuing bonds with the dead, and the presence of the dead in society. In particular, social network sites can bring dying and grieving out of both the private and public realms and into the everyday life of social networks beyond the immediate family, and provide an audience for once private communications with the dead.
— Bell, G. (2011, Dec). Life, Death, and the iPad: Cultural Symbols and Steve Jobs. Communications of the ACM, 54(12): 24-25.
Foot, K., Warnick, B. and Schneider, S. M. (2005). Web-Based Memorializing After September 11: Toward a Conceptual Framework. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(1), article 4.
I’m not sure I agree with this. Online and offline memorialisation sites may have different forms, but I argue the meanings for the mourners and their functions remain the same.
Foot and Schneider argue primarily that the hypertextuality - i.e., being able to link around (with the associated personal political decisions implicit or explicit therein) - and the opportunity for those “besides the original site producer” to contribute their own politics/agendas to the place of mourning/memorialisation, are the things that make the web different for this purpose.
I wonder, however, whether the public-ness of the web makes mourning for an individual more like mourning for a public event (e.g., 11 Sept 2011, 7 July 2007 etc) or whether the public-ness is simply another public placeholder, like a physical tombstone: no one is restricted from visiting it and paying his or her respects.
To wit, they make this interesting observation/draw this conclusion:
these Web sites and others served as scenes of collective action and cultural performance (Browne, 1995). They enabled witnesses to contribute to rescue efforts, express their shock and horror, and provide comfort to others. In so doing and insofar as they were archived, these sites presently contribute to the historical record of the attacks. They represent a version of the past which, when taken in concert with other versions, can provide a variegated picture of the forms of social action and reaction that marked post-September 11 events—and this picture contributes to our present understanding of how these events were experienced and understood.
from Parkes, C.M., Laungani, P. and Young, B. (1997). Death and Bereavement Across Cultures. Psychology Press: Hove, UK.
And a nice reality check for Modern (Wo)Man:
Each generation and each society has come up with its own solutions to the problem of death and has enshrined them in a complex web of beliefs and customs which, at first glance, seem so diverse as to be impossible to digest. Yet there are common themes that run through all of them.
Let’s see how they present themselves on the web then, shall we?
The authors of this edited volume are psychiatrists, and highly respected in the field of grief and bereavement.
One example of the cultural contextuality of death practices and beliefs:
As with Victorian religion and society at large, spiritualism sought to successfully integrate the traditional spiritual beliefs with the new tenets and methods of science (and the new confidence inspired by science). One writer claimed that “authority, in the world of physical science is backed up by the knowledge that it can always be checked,” as assertion that the modem religions of the nineteenth century and spiritualism hoped to be able to duplicate.
Thanks, medical science.
Interesting also that the author describes the relationship between “the scientific approach to spiritualism” and “the new field of psychology”, particularly how spirtualists rationalised their science using theoretical constructs of the self that were emerging in my own field:
One writer applauded the discovery of the concept of “personality,” of a mental being wholly separate from the physical self, and related this as a “scientific proof” of the possibility of the “survival of the human personality after physical death.”
Points to a new rationalisation during that period of the concept of a soul separate from the physical human: “The general principle of spiritualism, that the soul was immortal, was seen to be proven by science”. This has been under debate throughout human history, and seems to be learned at an early age.
Frankenstein was, of course, the artificial intelligence debate of the Romantic Period.
In Gregory, C. (1989-1990). A Willing Suspension of Disbelief, The Student Historical Journal, Vol 21: Loyola University.