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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 people’s 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 person’s 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 it’s 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 people’s experiences with digital death but also question people’s 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 Baudirillard’s 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 signals”11 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 communication”10 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 RPG’s (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. “Humankind’s 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 person’s 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. It’s 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 there’s 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. It’s 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 patterns”18 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 individual’s 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 people’s 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 Gently’s 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 smile…Then I do the classic double-take, back up the screen. What did the heading actually say? Douglas Adams died of a heart attack…”23

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 people’s 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 doesn’t know what she’s 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 can’t 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 testator’s “digital self,” I was very intrigued and could not help but think of the great potential for this kind of work, especially in today’s tech-savvy generation. In this digital age, a decedent’s 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 everyone’s

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 person’s 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 everyone’s 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 aren’t there to protect it?”25

Drop it in a Barrel of Radioactive Waste
47 48

“Fully Bork It With Magnetic Degaussing”25

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 people’s 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 Douglas’s writing had been collected. It contained 2,579 items, ranging from huge files that contained the complete text of Douglas’s 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 site’s 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] couldn’t access his accounts or pay suppliers… [or] shut the business down. People run their lives through Outlook, but [they] couldn’t access that either, so [they] couldn’t reach [the] customers to inform them that he’d 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


Documentary –
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 you’re generating from the grave”28 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 people’s 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 person’s 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 people’s 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 person’s 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 person’s 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 won’t 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 You’re 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. Martin’s Press, Inc Sterling, Bruce and Gibson, William (1990) The Difference Engine, Victor Gollancz Ltd Woods, John (1998) The Virtual Embodied, Biddles Ltd, Guildford and King’s 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 You’re 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