Death, dying, Facebook, and the Internet

The logo of social networking website Facebook is displayed on a computer screen with a casket in the background. This illustration represents death in the digital age.

We talk to Tony Walter and John Troyer of the University of Bath's Center for Death and Society. Tony is the Director, John is the Deputy Director. This weekend, the center is hosting a conference titled "Death & Dying in the Digital Age."

Tony says that when someone dies and is buried at a cemetery, there are certain behaviors that have become customary. You may talk to the person who has died but it is a private experience. But, Tony says, "When you're tapping away on a computer and talking to the dead, the physical environment is exactly same as when they were alive. So there's a number of postings to dead people on Facebook where there's a sense that the person is still listening."

While it shouldn't be surprising that there is a lot of sharing going on on Facebook, it almost becomes a funeral that never ends and where everyone is together yet also alone.

John says that there's a lot of attention being given lately to how to handle the digital trail that someone leaves behind. "Some of it just disappears," he says, "I gather if Flickr hears you've died, your pictures on Flickr just disappear. But there are other aspects of your digital self which you put on the web -- and someone may have copied and emailed to someone else -- and it's actually immortal."

John says that the equipment used to perform cremations operates digitally and the body is incinerated. "There's nothing saying you couldn't pull up the person's digital records on that touchscreen," he says, "and have simultaneous process that takes place in which those digital files are as well reduced to remains."

Also on this program, video game writer Ben Kuchera tells us about Jamestown. It's your average $10 PC download game about Sir Walter Raleigh fighting battles on Mars. And, Ben says, it's a whole lot of fun.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.


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