Life after death – digitally speaking

Wandering through a cemetery one wonders who all those people were. There is usually scant information beyond names and dates and the occasional photograph. Now digital technology offers a solution.

Denmark has pioneered graveyard memorials using QR code. Replacing the headstone with a hi-tech equivalent seems the obvious way to go for a world obsessed with information technology. Apparently, the biggest gravestone manufacturer in the country believes that the porcelain plates bearing the QR code will soon be as much a part of the death process as writing a last will and testament.

QR Code (Quick Response Code) is the trademark for a type of matrix bar code first designed for the automotive industry. The system is popular due to its fast readability and large storage capacity compared to standard bar codes. It consists of black modules (square dots) arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be made up of numeric, alphanumeric, or byte/binary data, or even Kanji.

In June 2011, the Royal Dutch Mint issued the world’s first official coin with a QR Code to celebrate 100 years of the existence of its current premises. The coin could be scanned by a Smartphone and linked to a special website with contents about the historical event and the design of the coin. This was the first time a QR code was used on currency.

In a cemetery, a unique QR Code can be attached to a headstone or grave-marker. Scanning the Code with a phone accesses a photo and a summary of the life history of the person interred. The service currently costs about 100 Euros. It would be easy to add audio and video recordings to help keep the deceased’s legacy alive. Glen Gould’s grave in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery, visited by hundreds every year, might offer the beautiful theme of the Goldberg Variations that he recorded in 1955 and again in 1981.

Clearly this is only the first step in a new service industry of interactive gravestones with embedded screens that provide information and first-hand recollections of an individual – a kind of mini-documentary on his or her life. And why not? For too long the rich, powerful and famous have had their lives recorded in the media of the day. A democratic alternative – even in death – is long overdue.

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