Digital Death: What Role Does Digital Information Play in the Way We are (Re)Membered?

Digital Death: What Role Does Digital Information Play in the Way We are (Re)Membered?

Stacey Pitsillides (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK), Mike Waller (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK) and Duncan Fairfax (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1915-9.ch006

Abstract

Within this chapter, the authors consider the emergence of new cultures and practices surrounding death and identity in the digital world. This includes a range of theory-based discussions, considering how we remember and document the absence of information and how communities and individuals deal with the virtual identities of their loved ones after death. This highlights the evolvement of digital practices in relation to public grief and the building of public (communal) identity, including the impact of digital recording and sharing of ones identity(s). Furthermore, the chapter stresses the relevance of the mediation of memory, discussing how mediation impacts one’s own identity and the communal cultural identity of society at large. Finally, the chapter concludes by considering what role personal choice plays in the way we deal with digital data, and more widely, our digital selves after death.
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2. Motivation For Digital Death, Bereavement, And Digital Archaeology

The increasingly social environment of the digital world (Panteli, 2009) means that people are spending a considerable amount of their time interacting in the virtual space. For example, the virtual platform Facebook experiences a phenomenal growth (150 million users in February 2009, 400 million by February 2010 (Facebook, 2010)). To unpick slightly what this incredible growth means from a sociological point of view, we must consider some of the key attributes of virtualization. In the virtual space, physical distance is nullified. This allows family and friends to remain constantly updated on each other’s lives, telepresent, giving them the ability to support each other through both highs and lows. Despite this phenomenal growth, there is very little formal research/study given to the use of these platforms for bereavement support, or more generally into ‘digital death.’ In the seminal paper (Pitsillides, Katsikides, and Conreen, 2009) the authors stress the need for formalizing the topic of digital death and identify a number of its dimensions.

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