Life after death in the digital era

Among the Toraju tribe in Indonesia, the dead stay with the living. Literally. Until the family can afford the extensive and expensive burial rites, which lasts several days at least, the dead person stays in the house. And once the burial has taken place, the dead person will still stay with their former family, in the form of a wooden effigy. It all amounts to a very close relationship between the dead and the living. In many ways, it seems quite healthy, and, one would imagine, leading to less of a fear of death.

Now, with the rise of social media, Westerners are creating their own effigies. We heard this week the sad, but in a way uplifting, BBC story about parents who put pictures of their stillborn children on YouTube. On Facebook, the pages of the dead are turned into living shrines, with their friends writing to them long after their death. Funeral companies are developing new products, for example events on death anniversaries, where family and friends gather every year on the anniversary of the death to celebrate their loved one, or tombs with digital touches.

As much as one could see could see these new practices as weird, and unusual from our Western perspective, perhaps we’re moving towards the closer relationship with death that many other cultures have long had. Unless these new digital estate companies manage to convince us all to sign up for our social media presences being taken down after we die, we can all live on in perpetuity on social media.

For a Western culture obsessed with the fear of dying (even if it has led to fantastic works of art), that can only be a good thing.

Image: Sangita Pujara, under Creative Commons.

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