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Abstract, 1 Observations, 3 Methodology, 8

Thought Experiments
Typographic Symbols, 43 How to Kill a Hard Drive? 47 Migrate to Second Life! 53 The 3D Web, 55 Exploration of Coffin 57 Diagrams of Bits and Atoms 58

Atoms and Bits, 9 Virtuality and Spirituality in the Virtual World, 14 De-socializaion of Death, 17

Practical Experiments
The Computer Auditor, 67 Last Will and Testiment of my Digital Self, 73

Virtual Exploration
An Evaluation of Non-Site Specific Mourning, 22 What Happens when Virtual Friends Die? 24 Influential Projects, 26

Visual Communication
Moving Timeline, 77 Mapping, 78 Documentary, 79

Conversations, 29 Interviews, 35

Evaluation, 81 Brief and Design Ideas, 84

is one of the most feared words in the English dictionary. What makes this word strike dread into peoples hearts? How can this collection of letters be responsible for so much drama? Death, the permanent termination of a living being, is an emotional and potentially disturbing topic. People prefer to ignore this word, the mere mention of it transforming social situations into uncomfortable silences. Yet,

When I wondered into a graveyard in Second Life1 I began to consider digital death. In what ways does digital death relate to death in the physical world and vice versa? Digital death can be seen as either the death of a living being and the way it affects the digital world, or the death of a digital object and the way it affects a living being.

everybody dies.

Second Life Screenshot

This analogy is explored throughout my thesis. I seek to discover the users, systems and situations which evoke digital death.

Three observations regarding digital death were identified: O1: the death of a living being O2: the death of digital information O3: immortality of digital information and the need to engineer its death


The death of a human begs the question: what happens to the mass of digital information left behind? Are there parts of the information space one would like to leave to loved ones, for example photos or financial information. In addition, one must question whether there are any parts of the information space that one would want to die with them. An equally important aspect of human death is the grieving process and whether the ritual of death is more important, or as important, as the dead body. If this is the case then can virtualization of death rituals assist in the grieving process?
Im still here!


The death of information itself is also to be considered when your digital information dies before you. For example the death of a persons personal computer or hard disk. How does this loss of a personal computer or hard disk affect people? This directly relates to how much information was lost and to how important and/or personal the information was. Another form of information death is when a system progresses or technology advances and your information is left in a format that cannot be read, for example the move from floppy disk to CD. This information is then lost or dead. Note that the preservation of digital material is a current worldwide concern.2

Information can also provide immortality because anything you write in the virtual world remains. If it remains in circulation, your bits will remain forever. However, this can also cause problems as there are an increasing number of people inputting information3,4,* every day and this information remains forever, even after someone has died. If this trend continues we will soon be buried in graveyards of dead personal information.



0100011001 Ahhhhhhhh!




* It has been estimated that the world produces between 1 and 2 exabytes of unique information per year, An exabyte is a billion gigabytes, or 1018 bytes. Printed documents of all kinds comprise only .003% of the total.4

The project methodology

involved the following steps:

Given these observations,

the objective of this project brief is to assess their validity and understand the details that would enable the definition of product ideas and assist in their design. The aim of this project is to produce ideas for products or services, which deal with the different forms of digital death, and its after effects, including death rituals.

Digitalizing Death was driven by two strands of development; theory, and concept. The theory based section consisted of reading, conversation and interviews. The concept strand made use of thought and practical experiments; it also resulted in the production of various pieces of visual communication. After the background reading and conversations, a number of interviews were set up. These interviews set out to explore peoples experiences with digital death but also question peoples reactions when they are asked to consider, what would happen to their digital ownership and digital selves after death. The thought and practical experiments were aimed at broadening my conception of this topic and the potential for designing a range of products, addressing the needs of a potentially huge market. This process helped me to understand some of the key issues behind digital death. It also helped me to decipher which issues were most important to people. I was able to gauge how people would react to various products designed to communicate or work within the area of digital death. These design ideas assisted in communicating theory and concept development. 8

In order to understand digital death , I must first understand the digital world. The digital world is made up of bits. My aim was to understand why we convert from atoms to bits and in doing so prove that as a designer there is a large scope for considering death and rituals of death in the digital world.

Backgound Information Part 1: Atoms and Bits

A bit is a binary digit, the smallest increment of data on a computer. A bit can hold only one of two values: 0 or 1, corresponding to the electrical values of off or on, respectively.5
A bit is a coding form, an abstract term, we have created to aid our transformation of real world data into computer form for computer storage, processing, and transfer. The coded information is processes, packaged, and travels within a virtual environment. Within my thesis I use the term bit to describe the transition of material products, atoms, into informational patterns, digital products, bits.


Conversion to bits allows products and rituals to acquire the qualities of digital informational patterns: bits weigh nothing, occupy no space, obey no physical law, can be created spontaneously from nothingness, and can be endlessly replicated.6 This means that the product (bit), through an internet connection, can be accessed from anywhere at any time. You need not travel to your product (bit); you need not carry your product (bit) around with you. Your product (bit) will not decay or waste away, but remain perfect without needing to be tended to.

product (atom)
---encoding--- signal ---encoding---

product (bit)

The product (bit) can be either infinitely malleable or resolutely indestructible,6

This is the product (bit)s best and worst quality because if you want immortality, then a bit is forever. However when you want to get rid of your product (bit) or perhaps more poignantly your information (bit) the obvious ways of human destruction do not work. You cannot burn, drown or blow up a bit. The only thing you can do is write over your bit with a lot of other bits and even this is not fool proof7 (a company calls this service: computer shredder). Bits can always be recovered. As Lucky states When the world crumbles, the bits will still be there.6



However, the preservation of digital material in a form that could be recognisable by human beings is also a challenge, as evidenced by Yola de a UNESCO discussion paper on digital preservation. While researching information theory, I began to consider how this information works within a system, particularly how communication systems and virtual worlds have developed digitally. By researching how the increase in affordable communication systems has affected us socially, I have begun to consider how this effects or creates a need for studying digital death.

Part 2 Virtuality and Spirituality in the Virtual World

As a virtual human (bit) you can be anywhere in the world in milliseconds. This means that you can have virtual colleagues and be part of a virtual team8. People at the top of their field, from all over the world can now collaborate effortlessly9 . As a human (bit) you can attend events and parties virtually, for example in Second Life. You can even be virtually present at a funeral you would otherwise be unable to attend. Perhaps this is the essence of Baudirillards statement: we no longer partake of the drama of alienation but are in the ecstasy of communication.10



As we move into new forms of cheap digital communication, such as Skype or e-mail, and different forms of social networks are built, a rich virtual form of interaction has become possible. Essentially, this means we can communicate as often as we want with people who live on the other side of the world and we can do this without ever having to leave our homes. The entire communication system has passed from a complex syntactic structure of language to a binary system of question/answer signals11 To research virtuality I immersed myself in the Second Life community, creating myself a new identity, Luma Ashdene. As an avatar I began to explore and identify how the virtual and material world differed. Are our feelings muted or extended in the virtual world? When we interact within a virtual space we do so without our senses. The loss of touch being perhaps the most poignant when interacting with people; these senses however are replaced by imagination and fantasy. At the moment that touching loses its sensory, sensual value for us it is possible that it might once more become the schema of a universe of communication10 I began to question how abstract concepts like spirituality translate from a physical to virtual space. As an avatar in Second life I visited churches, mosques and synagogues. I 15

began to investigate spirituality and question whether spirituality exists in the virtual world. Christine Robinson of the UU Church of Second Life says on the subject there is a spirituality of good conversation and real connection with people, and that spirituality is not in the least dependent on whether the connection happens in person, by letter, or by playing with avatars in virtual reality.12 This shows that despite the complexity of the system we are acting within as human bits, or avatars, we still act human. In the virtual space, our connection is still person to person. The main ways Second Life and other immersive environments or RPGs (role playing games) differ from Skype, e-mail, or msn is that they add an environment to the conversation. This allows you to explore, experience and interact together rather than to simply chat.

So one must ask: is death a part of virtuality?

If death is integrated into virtual spaces, then does the virtual representation of death aid in supporting people and helping them deal with death or does it leave people feeling a greater sense of isolation? 16

Part 3 Desocialization of Death

This leads me to question: can digitalizing death aid in re-socializing death or will it simply create further de-socialization? To begin to answer this question I began researching how the birth of clinical medicine and hospital-based treatment in the 1900s de-socialized death by removing it from the home and making it scientific rather than spiritual. My thesis aims to analyze whether technology, which in the past created de-socialization, can now play a role in creating a space for a more communal form of grieving. Humankinds status as social animals can never change; no amount of technology, no amount of virtual reality, can change the fact that humans live in community, and we live for community.13 17

The hospitalization of death meant that death was taken out of the community and treated as something abnormal or taboo. Society began to treat death as a medical failure, your doctor or nurse replacing the priest or family member present during a persons last moments. Even the Hippocratic oath, which we base our perception of medicine on, determines that people are to be treated as sick bodies who needed to be cured rather than real people, with spiritual and social needs. This has made death a technical phenomenon. Dying is no longer seen as a spiritual transition but as a medical condition.14 Baudrillard states We have de-socialised death by overturning bio-anthropological laws, by according it to the immunity of science and by making it autonomous, as individual fatality [However] death is a social relation its definition is social.11 As we move past the early 1900s, death became professionalized the roles of the group of woman who were recognised as qualified to lay out a corpse and of the village joiner in making the coffin had been suspended by the funeral director.15 In the past you were generally born and died in the same town or village. The ritual of death therefore was centred on the body and burial site, involving community grieving and support. 18

However as families spread out across the world, it becomes increasingly difficult for every family member to be there during the death, funeral, mourning period, and anniversary of death. This means that even if people are able to come for the funeral event a large proportion of the grieving is done in isolation.

Grief is slow. Its really a dinosaur in modern life. You can get a meal in three minutes from a fast food place, in a minute you can get any information you want from the internet, but pregnancy and grief still take a long time.16
With families becoming more and more spread out across the globe, some services have been created to allow long distance families the opportunity to grieve together virtually, even if they cannot attend the funeral in person. A funeral home in Northern Island offers online streaming of funerals Passwords are required to access specific streams, and the files are streams not downloads so theres no archiving or saving.17 19

However my reflections do not answer whether death can or should be digitalized. Currently death is centred on the physical world; the decay of our body is a physical process. Its burning or burying, is a material process. The ritual of death is linked to a place of significance, where the body/ashes remain. Death is a cultural, social, personal and spiritual experience. Therefore when researching a project that deals with 20

digital death I must consider the fact that because they have bodies, books and humans have something to lose if they are regarded solely as informational patterns18 This is why my project aims to go beyond seeing digital death as a mere collection of informational patterns. It seeks to use the systems of spirituality and social behaviour which exist within the digital world to create design concepts which deal with digital death,

An Evaluation of Non-Site Specific Mourning

Social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, and many others, provide a space in which an individuals home page can be transformed into a memorial site with collaborative grieving and sharing. Facebook is a good example of this as it enables the sharing of various forms of media an expansive plethora of homemade videos, photographs, and shared news articles that [could] serve to commemorate and preserve the deceased.19 MyDeathSpace14 is a community which is linked to My Space but not affiliated with them. The website gives members of information about deaths within their community. It is an archive of dead peoples My Space accounts, a virtual graveyard. On the site it states that it is an archival site, containing news articles, online obituaries, and other publicly available information.20 It appears that the ritual of death and death itself is beginning to penetrate even the virtual world and that online communities are finding ways to mourn their virtual acquaintances. In the online gaming community, players occasionally organize an online funeral when a member has died in real life, for example in Batteground Europe/WWII online.21 The

as a social relation.11



death of a fellow player highlights to users that online friends exist not only virtually, but also physically. When it is not possible to attend a funeral service in real life, attending an online ceremony may be an appropriate way to grieve.

What Happens when Virtual Friends Die?

Say you meet someone online, start chatting, e-mailing or gaming together. You do this for say two years, then all communication stops. What do you assume? Do you assume that person has simply lost interest and found a new hobby or do you assume that they are dead? There are various websites which offer you the opportunity to search government death records very easily. They vary in what kind and extent of information you are able to extract from them. They are only as good as their database after all.22 However in order to use these databases, one first has to consider the possibility that this person is dead, before actively searching for them. Today we have virtual acquaintances, virtual colleagues and even virtual friends. If they die, how are we to be informed, do we have a right to be informed? Can a friend (bit) be as close as a friend (atom)? Are family members aware of all your virtual friends? Richard Dawkins and Douglas Adams friendship, consisted mainly of e-mailing each other. It started when Richard Dawkins wrote his first ever fan letter after reading Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency. In the Salmon of Doubt he wrote about his shock when being informed of Douglas Adams death.

WoWfuneral, screenshot taken by Nickyee



Influential Projects:
Marc Owens

Virtual Death Row Log into e-mail as usual. The usual blue bold headings mostly junk The name Douglas catches my eye and I smileThen I do the classic double-take, back up the screen. What did the heading actually say? Douglas Adams died of a heart attack23

Considers the departure, or closing of ones account in Second Life, to be similar to dying. Owens created an in-world company SABRE & MACE which offered virtual characters a chance to experience death, as a way of detaching from their virtual persona. 25 26

Elliott Malkin -

Michele Gauler

Cemetery 2.0

Digital Remains uncategorized/2008/01/09/michele_gauler_digital_remains.jpg

Is an electronic device which connects the burial site to the persons surviving internet presence, including online memorials and tributes.

Is concerned with the role data plays when we remember the deceased. Access keys allow us to remotely log on to the digital remains of a person. This is accomplished through data tags and metadata; search algorithms aid us in finding relevant information. 28


My theory and knowledge of the subject was enhanced by having conversations about death, particularly digital death with a range of knowledgeable people. I then took the information I had collected and constructed interviews in order to answer specific questions I had on the topic of digital death. This also aided in my investigation of how aware people are of digital death and whether they considered there to be a need for research in this area. Through first hand research, I have gained a deeper understanding of the various professions which would be involved in creating a system which would deal with digital death.

William Dunphy Funeral Director

I was given an overview of the job of a funeral director, she related how peoples first instinct is to get rid of the body. Then they consider what to do the persons clothes and possessions. She highlighted the importance of a funeral director forming personal relations with their clients: if someone is going to bury your mother, you want to know that you can trust them. She talked about there being a fashion of death that allows products such as urns or coffins to have styles which go in and out of vogue. While I was there she also told me the story of man who was dying and was organizing his own funeral. One day he told her how he had smashed his hard drive. He said it was important to destroy his computer before he died, as it had personal pictures and files on it that would hurt people if they were found.

Moving on to Coversations & Interviews



Susan Miltiades, Cancer Patients and Friends Palliative care nurse

With a palliative care nurse I discussed home care. We talked about why it is beneficial to both patient and family, if patients die at home. It is a movement which has been created to combat de-socialization, by allowing death to reclaim its rightful place at home and in the community. However this cannot remove entirely the taboo society has placed on death. I was told that people imagine a good death to be like falling asleep. Therefore palliative sedation has become an approved method of care at the end of life if the patient is suffering and symptoms are unable to be controlled. This is not always for health reasons but because the patient and or family have existential suffering expecting a peaceful and controlled death

Bereaved partner 1
A woman who had recently lost her partner and was left with his personal computer. We discussed how she had to e-mail her partners death certificate to every online company he was signed on to. She also had to mail the death certificate to every government office. She was appalled at the isolation she felt and the fact that there were no services offered to help her deal with this process. She described how it felt to close down all these accounts, almost like losing another part of that person. She decided to keep up his gallery subscription for a year but doesnt know what shes going to do next year. She also keeps receiving new e-mails with the heading, hello John from various mailing lists and other groups which she says is always a shock.

Bereaved partner 2
This man has come to Cyprus to bring the ashes of his partner to her father who could not attend the funeral. Her mother and father are divorced therefore her ashes have been shared between them. He confirmed that had he known of a service which would allow her father to view the funeral as a live webcast, they would have used it. He stated that her father is finding it very difficult to accept her death as he feels he has received no closure. 32

Dr Niki Panteli, Senior Lecturer in Information Systems,

specialist in virtual teams and organisations discussed how she sets up virtual teams. She said she was pleased that someone was looking into the area of digital death, but was unwilling to think about or discuss the death of someone in a virtual team she had set up. 31

Silverax Greenwood
is the creator of a pet cemetery in Second Life. Through interviewing him I am further exploring the idea of spirituality in second life and questioning why there is a need for virtual graveyards. Virtual graves are easily accessible, with a virtual graveyard you do not need to travel anywhere to pay your respects all you need to do is log in. It is also cheaper to buy virtual space. The virtual world is vast and therefore relatively inexpensive. The virtual grave also has the potential to be more beautiful or perhaps more significant to the person as it can be designed and edited to suit your needs, as it is user generated. Moreover it provides a space to house or bury loved ones who are not accepted in the real world, as reflected by the following conversation I had with Silverax Greenwood in Second Life.

[4:35] [4:35] [4:36] [4:37] [4:37] [4:37] [4:37] [4:37] [4:37] [4:37] [4:38] [4:38] [4:38] [4:38] [4:39] [4:39] [4:39] [4:39] [4:40] [4:40] [4:40] [4:40]

Silverax Greenwood: I made this cemetery :) luma Ashdene: wow really luma Ashdene: what gave u the idea of a pet cemetry? Silverax Silverax Silverax Silverax Silverax Greenwood: Greenwood: Greenwood: Greenwood: Greenwood: I had a cat she was 21yo almost my daughter and the best friend she died about 4 y ago

luma Ashdene: awww yes i can see Silverax Greenwood: yes I still have her bone Silverax Greenwood: I couldnt find any nice cemetery in rl in japna luma Ashdene: well this beautiful Silverax Greenwood: ty :) luma Ashdene: do you think this place is spiritual Silverax Greenwood: no Silverax Greenwood: not spilitual luma Ashdene: what then? Silverax Greenwood: spilitual is only inside yoursel Silverax Greenwood: some ppl cant have grave of pets in rl Silverax Greenwood: but they want to luma Ashdene: yes Silverax Greenwood: and you can see your pet everyday if you have a grave here luma Ashdene: so are there people who come regularlly to see their pet? Silverax Silverax Silverax Silverax Greenwood: Greenwood: Greenwood: Greenwood: yes not so often but they feel ease they feel they can have grave

[4:41] [4:41] [4:41] [4:41] [4:41]



Professor Katsikides expressed a deep interest in the concept of digital death. He considers the virtual world to be a space where ritual is relevant and feels this could be implemented in the area of digital death. He recounted how he had met a Professor at a conference years ago, referenced him regularly and e-mail occasionally and one day stumbled upon his website and saw that his students had placed his obituary online. He thought it was a student joke and e-mailed the relevant students, only to discover that the professor had actually died. Throughout the interview he also talks about the collection of old computers he has in his basement, these computers contain information that no system can read anymore. He occasionally will revive one and explore his research past. Professor Katsikides considers digital death to be an open research issue in his field of social science. He has invited me to collaborate in a book chapter24 to be contributed to a book on The Information Maze he is currently editing. He believes this topic is novel and fits in well with the book.

Savvas Katsikides, Professor of Social Science

research interests include, sociology of work, sociology of technology, organisational and sociological theory and European Economic and Social Integration.



Elpida Keravnou Professor of Computer Science

George Chrysanthou Professor of Computer Science

Expertise: Knowledge Engineering. She has carried out research in the areas of knowledge engineering, expert systems, deep knowledge models, diagnostic reasoning, temporal reasoning, artificial intelligence in medicine, and hybrid decision support systems. Professor Keravnou admitted that she had not previously thought about digital death. She said that the idea of digital death did not interest her, as she had a work and family computer which all members of the family can access. However she became more interested in the topic when the discussion turned to her daughter whose internet presence, she said is a lot more prevalent than hers. 37 Expertise: Computer Graphics and Virtual Environments, including virtual and augmented reality and applications to cultural heritage. Professor Chrysanthou claimed that the majority of his work now exists solely in the digital world. The backups for this work are also digital. They exist within the university server, which is password protected. The only time he uses paper now, is for fast access and portability. He therefore proclaimed an interest in the idea of creating a living will for his digital self as, he said, he would like his students to feel like they could access his work if he were to die suddenly. 38

Demosthenis Georgiadis PhD candidate, Dept of Computer Science.

Antonis Tryfonos, psycho-oncologist

Key Research Interests: Virtual Teams and Virtual HealthCare Collaborations. Mr Georgiadis discussed his experiences with virtual teams for the provision of home health care, and that in this area his experiences were very positive. Regarding digital death he stated that he had not thought about it. He did not like the idea of a stranger looking through his computer. However he did admit that his colleague Jim had all his passwords and if he were to die he would want Jim to go through the records and give his family any relevant information. 39

Psycho-onchologist Tryfonos was interested in the idea of how you deliver bad news digitally. However he also felt that the digitalization of death rituals would have the consequence of removing guilt from people. He explained that, if for example, one could attend a funeral virtually then less people would feel like they had to come and the physical attendance of funerals would decrease, resulting in further de-socialization.


Group Debate
a range of candidates aged 18 50

Statement from Brandon Long University of Arkansas Law Student January 7, 2009
When I first learned about this new idea of creating a living will for a testators digital self, I was very intrigued and could not help but think of the great potential for this kind of work, especially in todays tech-savvy generation. In this digital age, a decedents personal computer likely contains very sensitive data, and even emotional, invaluable memories. With a societal trend of paperless transactions, many assets are stored in this new virtual world; thus, it is quickly becoming necessary to provide a means of effective disposal for these assets according to the desires and intent of the testator. It will be very interesting to see how this idea develops whether implementing this concept in accordance with our current system of drafting formal wills, or perhaps creating an entirely new system of digital distribution our system of wills and testaments is due for an update. 42

This allowed people of different generations to voice different perceptions of this topic. The group debate highlighted that people of the younger generation who have a larger internet presence are more interested in the topic and in a service that would provide a chance to


My concept was developed through the exploration of thought experiments, practical experiments and visual communication. Thought experiments allowed me to be imaginative and subvert well known products and systems.

Typographic Symbols
is an experiment which looks at current trends and the simplification of communication systems and the creation of a new short hand. It also considers social networks such as Facebook which encourage people to give their status. This mini-project gave me the consider the future, how will life and the home develop? Is need to be constantly updated status?

(i) (i) (i) (i)to(i)(i) (i) of(i) (i) This led a series
Practical experiments gave me experiences which influenced how I perceive my concept and visual communications allowed me to present my concept to people and observe their reaction to it.

(i) i (i) (i) i i (()) (i) i i (i) ii i . (i) iiiii((i(i)i).). i ii i

. .i ii .

opportunity to intelligence, there a modern on everyones

Thought Experiments

(i) i (i)(i)


. i ii i . .i . ii . i

(i) )i) (i) (ii) ii) i) (iii) ii) iiii) (i) i) iii ) (i)

ii. . . . ii

(i) > (i)

(i) > (i) (i) > (i) (i) (i) (i) >>(i)

(ii) (ii) (iii)

. ..i i

.i i.iiiiii

(i) (i)

unadjusted person in first life

(i) i (i)

unadjusted person in second life (resident)

intelligent robot in second life

i. .i
(i) > (i)


i. .i
( i)

robot with AI in second life

terrorist in second life (one death)

unadjusted robot in first life

unadjusted homeowner in second life (resident) 45

(i) (ii) (iii)

Moving Status
is the visualization of typographic symbols. These symbols are shown in a digital context as fluid. They constantly change as a person updates their life, the persons status therefore tells the story of their life. 46

person with IA in first life

How to kill a Hard Disk?

Mini project derived from anecdotal evidence and web suggestions.

Security is a word that seems to be on the tips of everyones tongue these days. With so many hackers, trojans, spybots most people are concered about security primarily when connected to the internet. But with rising amounts of ID theft and the ever-present threat of theft, how do you keep your data safe when you arent there to protect it?25

Drop it in a Barrel of Radioactive Waste

47 48

Fully Bork It With Magnetic Degaussing25


Smash Repeatedly with a Hammer

50 photostream/

Shoot it with a Makarov 9mmx18!


Strap it Down to a Busy Street in Centeral London


Migrate to Second Life!

A series of drawings which explored the idea of what would happen if there was a mass migration into Second Life, in which people were put into a coma. Where would all the bodies be housed? Would it look like a graveyard? How would this change the ritual of death? Would Second Life be considered an after-life?



The 3D Web
Three drawings experimented with the idea of Web 3D and how this interface would look like? ImmersiPresence is our vision of the future of the Internet; the next great breakthrough in our digital era that will transfer our two-dimensional world of computers, TV and film into three-dimensional immersive environments,




kr lic





bits and atoms

an exploration



Exploration of coffin and how this would look like as communication, security, sharing and information. 57 58





second life

Human to Human

The role of imagination in bit-products



site-specific grieving

non-site-specific grieving

The Computer Auditor

How much does the information on my computer represent me? In order to experiment with these ideas I have set about exploring all the information on my own computer. I have questioned what opinion people would have of me if all they had to go on, was my digital self? Does the digital self lie? For example my movie collection is not a representation of me as it was taken directly from my friend Mark.

Moving on to Practical Experiments

Is i-tunes a better representative? Perhaps not as the majority of peoples i-tunes collection is an amalgamation of all their friends music.



Auditing of the contents of my computer (physical)

Auditing of the contents of my computer (virtual)

writing out every file by hand


going into command prompt and asking the computer to make a record of every file

My computer is only one year old but it has already accumulated over 2433 printed pages of data. The idea of a Computer Auditor is one I thought up when going through the contents of my computer. I began by meticulously going through every action I had made on the computer for the past year, categorizing the information into files that had entertained me, files that contained my work, files that contained personal information and files that are there because I am too scared to delete them. All files were then categorized and colour coded.

The job of this computer auditor would be to go and collect the computer from the home after the person had died and make a record of all information on their computer. Following their last will and testament, they would then begin to categorize what information should be saved and prepared for the family and what information should be sent to rest in cyber space. They would also be responsible for packaging the wanted information so it is easily accessible and enjoyable, either as a memorial to the loved one or simply as a form of digital ashes. Obviously this could also be done by a close friend as was the case with Douglas Adams

The CD-ROM onto which Douglass writing had been collected. It contained 2,579 items, ranging from huge files that contained the complete text of Douglass books to letters on behalf of Save the Rhino, a favourite charity.
However not everybody has friend who would be prepared to do this and not all of us have the skills to uncover the information and categorize it. However The Salmon of Doubt shows that, at least in some computers, there is undoubtedly the potential for retrieving invaluable information. 71 72

This is the last Will and Testament of my Digital Self

- of me - STACEY OLGA PITSILLIDES of 175 Waller Road, New Cross, London, SE14 5LX 1. I HEREBY REVOKE all former Wills and testamentary dispositions made by me under the law of England and Wales and declare that the proper law of this my Will shall be the law of England and Wales. 2. I APPOINT my mother BARBARA and my father ANDREAS and my brother MICHAEL to be the Executors and Trustees of this my Will (hereinafter called My Trustees which expression shall include the Trustee or Trustees for the time being hereof) 3. IF nobody with parental responsibility survives me I APPOINT my brother MICHAEL TAKI PITSILLIDES of CLARE HOUSE, 23 THE GROVE, ILKLEY WEST YORKS LS29 8HG to be the Guardian of any of my personal computers BUT if the aforesaid shall die before me or disclaim the appointment then I APPOINT my friend NATALIE JOANNOU of 18 LOUVRE STREET, STRETFORD, MANCHESTER to be such Guardian 4. I GIVE the following legacies: (i) I give to my brother MICHAEL TAKI PITSILLIDES absolutely all of my e-mail accounts, movie collection and i-tunes . (ii) I give to my friend NATALIE JOANNOU absolutely all of my social networks, Pay Pal, Second Life and Skype accounts PROVIDED THAT if the said NATALIE JOANNOU shall predecease me or fail to survive me by 30 days then I give the said legacy absolutely to my friend CASEY STRUBLE (iii) I give CANCER RESEARCH (Registered Charity Number ) absolutely the future sum of blog earnings through ad sense ads. 5. I DECLARE THAT if any share of any legacy in the above paragraph 4 of this my Will shall fail then from the date of such failure such share or shares shall accrue and be added to the share or shares in that legacy (if more than one in the proportion which such other shares bear to one another) which shall not have failed at the date of my death and be held subject to the same provisions and conditions as those affecting such other share or shares AND I FURTHER DECLARE THAT if any legacy in the above paragraph 3 of this my Will shall fail entirely or be declared void then it shall fall into and form a part of my Digital Estate 6. I GIVE DEVISE AND BEQUEATH all my real and personal documents of whatsoever nature and wheresoever situate (including any information over which I may have a general power of appointment or disposition by Will) to my Trustees upon trust to sell call in and convert the same into money with full power ...............

A living will for your digital self

Most of our virtual identities do not expire immediately with our body. Information tends to have a different set of laws to the physical world. It will generally remain intact until someone decides to close the accounts. Communities such as Friendster write in their user-terms agreement that the provider of the sites services [are prohibited] from removing your profile without your express consent.19 It also specifies that a relative must provide written proof, which means that grieving relatives must scan and e-mail a death certificate to each of these communities, if they want the persons account to be closed down. In modern society we are conducting a greater proportion of our lives digitally. We bank digitally. Buy things digitally. Write letters digitally. Archive digitally. Therefore it seems appropriate that people should begin to consider what will happen to their digital lives which now run parallel to our material lives when our material body dies? It seems logical that since we are aware that so many actions in 74


our life are now digital, that we should be thinking about what will happen to these actions, accounts and personas once we are dead. A very simple financial example is as follows john had a niche Internet business when he died he left no provision for the business. [his family] couldnt access his accounts or pay suppliers [or] shut the business down. People run their lives through Outlook, but [they] couldnt access that either, so [they] couldnt reach [the] customers to inform them that hed died.27 Perhaps people simply do not think about the division of their digital assets when thinking about their death.

Which led to a series of Visual Communications



Moving Timeline and Future Predications

Mapping of Key Features of my Territory

This timeline takes you from the invention of the telegraph in the 1850s through social, technological and communication developments into the future of communication It also looks at trend prediction as it extrapolates recent trends into the future and presents the idea of mass migration into second life 77

This mapping serves to visually explore my research, looking at the interelation of bits and atoms. It also maps out virtual communication systems and religon. Looking specifically at how this links to death


an amalgamation of information collected through my interviews, presented.



Evaluation of Research and Experimentation

My research and experimentation has led me to revisit a number of the questions I have posed throughout my thesis: If the ritual of death is symbolic, then is it still valid if it is recreated in a virtual environment? Also, if the ritual of death is more important than the dead body, then can the virtualization of death rituals assist in the grieving process? Are virtual graveyards helpful in allowing for non-site specific grieving, as on-line memorials and tributes do? And can, or should, a living will for the digital self be developed? The problem with virtual news is that there is no hierarchy of information. There is no digital way of breaking bad news because all e-mails look the same, therefore one e-mail could hold an offer for hair care products and another could hold information about the death of a loved one. It is both clinical and shocking to see the words is dead in black and white, when scanning through your in-box. Another question is what happens to the adverts and links to your homepage or blog when you die? What happens to the revenue youre generating from the grave28 without proper preparation, what happens to this 81

ad networks allow for the inheritance of revenue? In the future will people be passing along their AdSense and Amazon affiliate accounts in their wills? Will publisher accounts?22 Throughout my research I have also observed peoples lack of comfort, when considering selling or giving away their personal computers. Can sensitive data ever be fully removed from a computer? Or do we all secretly store graveyards of computers in our basements? Could we assist a computer in committing suicide, or give it a rebirth, by extracting all information and returning it to a pristine form where it could have a new life. One may question, why should a computer want to commit suicide? Perhaps its job is over and it is no longer being used. It is devoid of the information that once made it whole. Perhaps it misses being used and communicating with other computers. Without a person using it, it is dead. Should there be a service that allows a personal computer to be buried or cremated with a loved one? Looking at the idea of computers dying before their humans, anecdotal evidence has it that the new VISTA operating system by Microsoft has generated quite a large number of catastrophic failures/crashes (a Google search: vista crashes, 11 January 2009, returns 2.69 million results). This suggests that as these systems get more and more 82

complex, the possibility of catastrophic failures increases. In human terms this causes the loss of a persons information and identity. This is due to the loss of work, projects, photos, contacts and others. Another very simple but important observation is the fact that everybody dies. However, death does not exist in the digital world, therefore the amount of dead peoples personal information online is going to keep rising exponentially. If there is no one there to clean up the dead information, then the amount of information on the web from and about dead people will begin to exceed the amount of information from people who are alive. There may be a time when you log into your social network or gallery and find yourself surrounded by a

Conclusions of the Brief and Design Ideas

During my research and experimentation, I kept visiting the notion of digital death. Digital death deals with the death of a living being and how that translates into a digital framework. It also involves the death of a digital object and how this death, affects a living being. In addition it considers how death can be designed into a system of immortality. By revisiting these initial observations and the conclusions of my research and experiments, the following design ideas emerged, categorized under each observation.

corpus of dead bits

It is these questions and observations that have led me to consider the design of various products and services that deal with digital death.



Observation One: Death of a Human

A virtual will for the digital self. Perhaps this would be a requirement when joining a new social network. For example facebook, when you sign the terms and agreements you would be transferred to a service which would contain your online presence and allow you to add facebook. This would create a legally binding will which would enable you to leave digital information, ownership and messages for virtual friends. d-mail or death news mail is my consideration of how information of your death is passed to your virtual friends. When there is no hierarchy of information and no intonation in the virtual world how do you pass on this sensitive information and to whom? Perhaps there could be a specific colour code, for example black text for normal emails, red for urgent emails and brown, for e-mails containing news of a persons death.

Observation Two: Death of Information

Design a piece of visual communication to comfort the grieving owner whose personal computer has died. This could include a burial or cremation of the dead computer. This piece of communication would be done in a comical or childlike way, perhaps a series of computer narratives with serious undertones warning people of the dangers of not backing-up.



Observation Three: Immortality of Information and the Need to Create Death.

Design a service which will kill all information that is no longer alive. For example a search engine filter that specifically tags this information as dead and does not present it in response to a search, unless asked for. Design an online funeral service which identifies all digital possessions/presence of a deceased person and causes the deletion/ modification /archiving or tribute of this information, according to the instructions of the family or the will of the deceased person. Design a product which would suck out all the information on a persons personal computer so that the computer can be reborn and put to use again for example be donated to charity without worrying about shadows left behind. Design a product which would aid a computer in committing suicide after the death of its human master. 87 88

Digital Death
The Final Fronteer

Physical death has been a source of curiosity and debate since man appeared on earth. Digital death is a rich and largly untouched21 field of design. Digitalizing death therefore serves to revitalize this mistique. Researching this topic has been a source of inspiration which has led to the conception of various playful, serious and comunicative designs.

Give your computer the rebirth it deserves!

[8] Lipnack, J. and Stamps, J.(1997), Virtual teams. New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc. [9] Panteli, N., Chiasson, M. (2008), Virtuality: beyond the boundaries of space and time. In Panteli, N. & Chiasson, M. (Eds): Exploring virtuality within and beyond organisations: social, global and local dimensions. Palgrave. [10] Baudrillard, J. (1988), The Ecstasy of Communication, Editions Galilee [11] Baudrillard, J. (1993), Symbolic Exchange and Death, Sage Publications [12] Robinson, C. (2007), Spirituality in Second Life, Wednesday, February 07, 2007 // spirituality-in-second-life.html [13] Nikias, C. L. Max. (2008), University: What wont change. Posted January 30, 2008. versities-whatwont_b_83971.html [14] Anonymous. The Medicalization of Death Created: 18th January 2002 http: // [15] Monroe, Lemer (1980), When, why, and where people die p 87-106 In Death: current perspectives. From Death Society and Hospice Readings for graduate studies in Palliative care Flinders University, Mayfield Publishing Company

References: [1] Linden Lab, Second Life. [2] Lusenet Yola de, (2002), Preservation of digital heritage, Draft discussion paper prepared for UNESCO, European Commission on Preservation and Access, March 2002. [3] King A., (2009), Average Web Page Size Triples Since 2003. Last modified: January 09, 2009. tweak/average-web-page/ [4] Lyman P., Varian H. R., Dunn J., Strygin A., Swearingen K., (2000), Project: How Much Information? 2000, http://www2.sims. [5] University Information Technology Services. What are bits, bytes, and other units of measure for digital information? Last modified on July 07, 2008 http:// [6] Lucky R, (July 1994), Bits are Bits Published as: A bit is a bit is a bit? IEEE Spectrum [7] Data Storage Media Destruction Services Copyright 1998-2007 http://www.salvage

[16] Hlamish, L., Hermoni, D. (2007), The Weeping Willow (Encounters with grief) Oxford University Press [17] Pachal P., Mourning goes digital: Irish undertaker introduces funeral streaming Posted on 11:55 AM ON 03/18/07 http:// goes_digital_irish_un.php [18] Hayles K. (1999), How we became Post Human (Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and informatics), University of Chicago Press Ltd Ryan J. (Wesleyan University), Online Social Networks As Vehicles of Individual and Collective Remembrance. remembrance.htm

[23] Adams D. (2002), The Salmon of Doubt, Pan Books. [24] Pitsillides S., Katsikides S., Conreen M., Digital Death, Invited book chapter in forthcoming book on The Information Maze, edited by Katsikides S., to be published by University Press of America (UPA), 2009. [25] Pearson, C. 5 Ways To Destroy Your Hard Drive. July 7th, 2006 http://www.boyd [26] Gralnick J., Reaching Out - Last report in a series on how local stations can use their Web sites to generate new content. 16 January 2008: 18:39 http:// [27] Reeves S., What happens to your e-mail when you die? Or your digital photos, or your Web site domain? How to prepare. Updated 12:54 p.m. ET Feb. 1, 2006. [28] Kivell J., Who Profits From Your Content When Youre Dead? Posted on April 1, 2008 7:36 AM http://www. profits_from_you.html


[20] Patterson M. (creator.), Welcome to Launched on Jan 2006 [21] Baudoin T., How to Deal with Death Online Death on the internet. http://

[22] How Do I Find Dead People? How do I find out if someone is dead without causing distress or embarrassment. Copyright 2005-2008 groundcheck/howdoifinddeadpeople.php

Additional Bibliography: Adams, Douglas (2002) The Salmon of Doubt, Pan Books Asimov, Issac (1951) Foundation, Bantam Dell: A division of Random House Inc Baudrillard, Jean (1988) The Ecstasy of Communication, Editions Galilee Baudrillard, Jean (1993) Symbolic Exchange and Death, Sage Publications Beckmann, John (1998) The Virtual Dimension (architecture, representation, and crash culture), Princeton Architectural Press Dick, Philip (1999) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Gollancz Elton, Ben (2007) Blind Faith, Bantam Press Gibson, William (1984) Neuromancer, Victor Gollancz Ltd Goldsmith, Jack and Wu, Tim (2006) Who Controls the Internet? (Illusions of a Borderless World), Oxford University Press Hayles, Katherine (1999) How we became Post Human (Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and informatics), University of Chicago Press Ltd Hayles, N. Katherine (2005) My Mother Was a Computer (Digital Subjects and Literary texts), The University of Chicago Press Ltd Hamelink, Cees (2000) The Ethics of Cyberspace, SAGE Publications Heim, Michael (1998) Virtual Realism, Oxford University Press Hlamish, Lynne and Hermoni, Doron (2007) The Weeping Willow (Encounters with grief) Oxford University Press Hockey, Jenny/ Katz, Jeanne and Small, Neil (2001) Grief, Mourning and Death Ritual, Biddles Limited, Guildford and Kings Lynn Macel, Otakar and Schaik, Martin (2005) Exit Utopia (Architectural Provications 1956-76), Prestel Publishing Ltd Mitchell, William (1996) City of Bits, The MIT Press Monroe, Lemer (1980) When, why, and where people die p 87-106 In Death: current perspectives. From Death Society and Hospice Readings for graduate studies in Palliative care Flinders University, Mayfield Publishing Company Negroponte, Nicholas (1995) Being Digital, Vintage Books (reference) Nozick, Robert (1974) Anarchy, Utopia and State, J. W. Arrowsmith Ltd

Conference: Parker, Ian and Gordo-Lopez, Angel (1999) Cyberpsychology, Macmillan Press Ltd Prior, Lindsay (1989) The Social Organization of Death, St. Martins Press, Inc Sterling, Bruce and Gibson, William (1990) The Difference Engine, Victor Gollancz Ltd Woods, John (1998) The Virtual Embodied, Biddles Ltd, Guildford and Kings Lynn Audiovisuals: BBC Horizon (First Broadcast: 24 October 2006) Human 2.0 BBC Two (First Broadcast: 29 January 2008) Wonderland: Virtual Adultery and Cyberspace Love Kaku, Dr Michio - BBC Four (2008) Visions of the future (Part 1 - The Intelligence/ Part 3 - The Quantum Revolution) Naim, Omar (2004) The Final Cut, Lions Gate Entertainment The History Channel (First Broadcast: 21 January 2008) Life After People Wachowski , Andy and Larry (1999/ May 2003/ Sept 2003) The Matrix/ The Matrix Reloaded/ The Matrix Revolutions, Groucho II Film Partnership/ Warner Bros. Pictures The Future Laboratory, Autumn LS:N Trend Briefing, 12 November 2008 from 9am-1pm Topics covered: Impression Management, Homedulgence, Embedded Marketing, Freesumerism, The Female Web, The New Sobriety and Bleisure. Feature Articles: R, Lucky (July 1994) Bits are Bits Published as: A bit is a bit is a bit? IEEE Spectrum R, Lucky (May 2008) Zipf Drive, IEEE Spectrum Websites: Anonymous. The Medicalization of Death Created: 18th January 2002 Baudoin, Tanja. How to Deal with Death Online Death on the internet. http://www.mediamatic. net/page/48756/en Boddy, Ryan. Ghosts in the Machines What Happens to Your Online Self When You Die? 06/30/2004 news/story.asp?id=8182 Data Storage Media Destruction Services Copyright 1998-2007 http://www.salvagedata. com/data-destrution/

Fogie, Seth. Stealing Your Family Vacation: Memories of a Media Card. Last updated Dec 29, 2006. content.aspx?g=security&seqNum=234 Gralnick, Jeff. Reaching Out - Last report in a series on how local stations can use their Web sites to generate new content. 16 January 2008: 18:39 reachout.htm Grossman, Cathy. Faithful build a Second Life for religion online. Updated 4/3/2007 9:03 AM How Do I Find Dead People? How do I find out if someone is dead without causing distress or embarrassment. Copyright 2005-2008 http:// howdoifinddeadpeople.php Jay Hurvitz. A Moment of Silence - On Virtual Mourning. July 22, 1997 http://muse. King, Andrew. Average Web Page Size Triples Since 2003. Last modified: January 09, 2009. tweak/average-web-page/ Kivell, Jules. Who Profits From Your Content When Youre Dead? Posted on April 1, 2008 7:36 AM http://www.technologyevangelist. com/2008/04/who_profits_from_you.html

Linden Lab. Second Life. http://secondlife. com/ Marshall, Gary. What happens to your web stuff when you die? Ensure your profiles and pics stay up if you pop your clogs. October 14th 2008 world-of-tech/what-happens-to-your-onlinestuff-when-you-die--475705 Nikias, C. L. Max. University: What wont change Posted January 30, 2008 | 01:15 AM (EST) Pachal, Peter. Mourning goes digital: Irish undertaker introduces funeral streaming Posted on 11:55 AM ON 03/18/07 http://dvice. com/archives/2007/03/mourning_goes_digital_ irish_un.php Patterson, Mike (creator.) Welcome to Launched on Jan 2006 http:// PC Pro. What happens to your data when you die? 22nd June 2007 features/114410/what-happens-to-your-datawhen-you-die.html Pearson, Chris. 5 Ways To Destroy Your Hard Drive. July 7th, 2006 http://www.boyd

Reeves, Scott. What happens to your e-mail when you die? Or your digital photos, or your Web site domain? How to prepare. Updated 12:54 p.m. ET Feb. 1, 2006. http://www.msnbc. Robinson, Christine. Spirituality in Second Life. Wednesday, February 07, 2007 spirituality-in-second-life.html Ryan, Jenny (Wesleyan University.) Online Social Networks As Vehicles of Individual and Collective Remembrance. http://www.jennyryan. net/research/remembrance.htm University Information Technology Services. What are bits, bytes, and other units of measure for digital information? Last modified on July 07, 2008 data/ackw.html Vi. Wipe out your Hard Disk or memory cards. Sunday, January 07, 2007 wipe-out-your-hard-disk-or-memory-cards.html

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