Digital death day conference 2010 in London – Summary

Yesterday we were at digital death day (Un)conference in London and had great time discussing various issues related to death and digital death. It was nice to see so many people discussing the idea of death and problems of death in digital age. We hosted a session on planned departure and how it can be used to transfer key information about life and online identities to designated beneficiaries after death.

First session we participated in was related to the historical roots of digital death. We had nice discussion on what is technology? Is it a concept, practice or a choice? Discussion soon moved to how technology has evolved and how it has changed our life in every stage. From romance on the telegraph lines to women’s reservation to use telephone at home and error messages which eventually became SMS in mobile phone – one factor which made all of these successful was communication. Telegraph, telephone, computers and many other gadgets were developed for business, but when people realised that they could be used for communication, they became extremely popular and successful.

One concept related to death which has stood the test of time is obituaries. Obituaries are considered as formal notification of death and have been around for little over 300 years now. We had discussion around how obituaries are different in physical newspaper and online world. We also had discussion on how truthful and honest obituaries can be? Is there any possibility of conflicts in the obituaries?

At planned departure, we were of the opinion that content of obituary and who controls conflict should be decided by the person for whom obituary is written. At planned departure user can setup their own obituaries and specify who should moderate tributes paid on these obituaries

Few more interesting concepts we discussed were around death photography which was very popular during the early days of photography where portraits of death people were taken in life like forms. We also discussed few interesting projects like digital remains, temple of burning man and scan memory on the lines of how much people want to preserve and transfer their memories and how much it is common in different parts of the world.

We also had a discussion on the rising trend of people converting remains of their loved ones into artefacts like pencils, colours and even precious stone. It was interesting to know that people are even using digital tattoos as a way to remember their loved ones.  

Next session was ours and we discussed complexities of digital life, how much information we  have and how much of it could be useful for people we leave behind. We had discussion around planned departure which is all covered in our features section so I wont repeat that discussion here. During this session,  Darren, who is managing director of Impact360 gave us some numbers which shows how important it is to transfer information after death.  It seems MS has around 500 million USD of cheques which were sent as dividend. It is with MS because they do not know who should take it. If its 500 million USD with Microsoft alone, how much is around the whole world, in shares, unclaimed insurance, pre-paid funerals and so on?

Next session was around the concept of everything forever – which is digitizing your every data and keep it forever. I was not sure about the usefulness of this concept, but then got to know about a project called My Life Bits from Microsoft research. In the same session we had discussion on the concept of virtual donation – which is donating digital identity to researchers like how people do with their physical bodies. Another interesting discussion we had in this session was around the topic of network of dead people in our network. 

One last session, was on the topic of devising a language to communicate the concept of digital death and unfortunately we missed it because of our schedule 😦 Hope it will be covered by fellow bloggers though. 

Overall it was a really nice experience and very relevant to our current time. With continuously increasing dependency on digital life – we need to increase awareness of this concept and help people in transferring their digital information after death. My sincere thanks to Kaliya and Stacey for organizing this and increasing awareness about the topic of digital death.


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