The Death Panel
3:15 p.m., Saturday, April 16, room 716 | Faculty respondent: Eugene Thacker
Mourning Becomes Electronic: Death and Memorial in Cyberspace
From the dreaded computer viruses of the early days of cyberspace to the so-called dead links of contemporary web parlance, biological processes influence our articulation of cyber technologies. This paper examines how the internet engages metaphors of the body, with special attention to interventions it makes regarding the finality of death. Derrida is not the first to note that death is at least partially culturally constructed; how might culturally specific understandings of death develop within contemporary cyber culture? Popular social networking sites Facebook and MySpace nominally suggest physicality and geography, respectively, yet they exist solely in the digital realm. What sort of afterlives develop when social network users die? In a realm devoid of physical entities, what do their survivors mourn?
This paper asks how newly developing conventions of cyber grieving might, in the process of mourning the dead, grant the deceased a form of immortality, even as it investigates how the finality of death might drive social communication among the living, in the digital realm. How might the internet provide a new forum – a new medium, in both the cyber space and spiritualist senses of the word – for memorial communication? Developing conventions of cyber grieving shift what Eve Sedgwick calls the “place” of memorial to the shared space of online social networks. What happens when social networking conventions elide the conditional “as if” which Sedgewick describes as characteristic of memorial communication? To whom do we speak when we memorialize the dead online?
Supplementary materials: Video: Pocket Cemetery
Networked Mortality: Perceptions and Projections of Death in Digital
The death of anonymity, the death of Adobe Flash, and the death of the internet itself; digital life has certainly received its share of predictive dramatic endings but what about death of the users? Where and for how long will our digitized information be searchable and interactions recorded? As we increase the technological ways in which we can track, capture, upload, and locate ourselves we extend the lifecycle of memories and perhaps our relationship with mortality. This paper will address portions of my thesis that speak to our growing online memorialization processes and turn to historical rituals and urban symbolism and discourses on death to look at how networked mortality is revolutionizing life, technology and projections of mortality.
The presentation will look at the intersections between mortality and digital culture, mapping our interactions with death through social media against theorists including Phillippe Aries’ analysis of western attitudes toward death from the middle ages to the present. Specifically, a look at the mediums—such as newspaper obituary sections—that have in the last several decades been used to acknowledge death juxtaposed against today’s involuntary networked memorial, or the memorial that occurs when a digitally and socially connected individual passes away. Finally, the presented paper will challenge whether the online medium alters existing social practices related to mourning and has the power to influence our digital consumption.
Supplementary materials: Death on Facebook infographic | “As Older Users Join Facebook, Ghosts Reach Out,” New York Times | Radiolab episode: “After Life”
The Materiality of Deletion
Delete. Erase. Trash. Wipe. Shred. Tape over. Sanitize. Undo. The words used to specify the removal of a record is as diverse as the formats that it can take shape in. Files are deleted from the drive. Audio and video wiped from tapes. Words erased from paper. For more certainty, the paper can be shredded. Tapes burned. Hard drive dismantled, platters grinded.
As effortless as it seems to delete a file, undo a word, or even wipe a tape, the physical proximity and possession of the recordable medium no longer provides a tangible guarantee. The comfort of the possibility of effortless deletion has proven disruptive when the computer is plugged into the network, files systems scattered and distributed, users clicking in and sharing out. Material presence of information never guaranteed the author control of the content, but the language of expressing and representing control over information is changing.
This project is about verifying and testing the hypothesis that a meaningful change is taking place in our relationship to the materiality of deletion. My proposal is to foreground the tools, surfaces and grammar involved in record deletion across a spectrum of media. To explore the question: are we agreeing to forget without material verification?