Gone are the days that the attic stored thousands of photos and letters and memories. These are all online now in email accounts, on Facebook, Instagram, in clouds and elsewhere. These photos, videos, tweets, blogs and emails are digital or online assets that may have significant value for family and friends of the deceased.
On October 27th 2018 in Albany, New York, The Digital Legacy Conference took place, which brought together an eclectic group of academics, industry professionals and experts from around the world with a view to raising industry standards, sharing best practice and engaging with the subject of death and digital.
In a study, published in the journal NATURE HUMAN BEHAVIOUR, data from more than 15,000 social media networks of people who died were examined during a 4-year period. They examined how people interacted on those networks both before and after a death. The result was that people are indeed now grieving ONLINE and use online channels to stay connected to networks of the deceased. Online death needs to be addressed, both in terms of our legacies left online, how we grieve online and how people can be negatively affected by online trolling during times of grief.
The idea of using your phone to take ‘selfies’ with an app that has features like dog-faced filters and an obsession with hot dogs and glittery halos seems to go against the etiquette of a typical funeral. But these times, they are changing and funeral etiquette is evolving and revolving around social media as is the case with all celebrated life events like weddings, bar mitzvahs etc
Funerals and funeral planning have taken on an entire new meaning as people factor in online social identities and ways of communicating a moment of loss around the world.
Funeral homes have had to ‘get with the times’ as they try to hold fast to their historically steady business. Digital marketing for them can mean moving forward and engaging with their customers on a whole other level not before seen in the death business OR online can mean negative reviews and stale websites and pages because if you choose to go online, as we all know, it is a full time commitment. Facebook pages and Instagram accounts cannot be started and just left to ‘do their own thing’. A carefully strategized digital communications plan can boost awareness of your funeral home, dispel myths of the grim reaper and show the general public the true heart of a funeral home. People buy from people, people whom they know and trust and this is no different in the death business.
Millions attended Whitney Houston's funeral and listened to "I will always love you" as her body left the local church. Just recently the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin exited stage left in front of millions all around the world in a four day funeral extravaganza. The church had set up a huge screen to livestream the service at a local gas station parking lot for her local community.
EVERYONE can be let in to experience these historically selective events.
When it comes to celebrities, the public want closure, according to the Famous NYC Funeral Home to the Stars – Frank E Campbell. The funeral home stood as a backdrop to those who came to mourn Heath Ledger in NYC in 2008.
The intense dedication and unity of the mourners, the familial connections felt for people they have never met, the volatility of grief was apparent for all to see and this is not just reserved for Heath Ledger and his fans but to every "celebrity" or person in the public arena.
They need to be a part of that life that they have never touched personally, individually, privately, and in person — but through the media, through television, through the movies, it was very much a part of their growing up and their life. They want closure. People from every walk of life."
And we have almost all become celebrities in our own right. A teenager today can have over 1000 friends on Facebook and yet a baby boomer may have only ever had 5 friends growing up, it puts it all into a weird perspective.
Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter have also made us much more comfortable with sharing intimate details about ourselves online with strangers on a constant basis. Many deaths and funerals are reported, commented on, tweeted, snapped, recorded and posted online before even their loved ones have heard of the news. This poses positive and negative repercussions. A number of people are finding out about friends and family members deaths via social media. An emotional blow and not purposefully revealed to cause pain but none the less this is a new trajectory to navigate.
An entire new industry has been created with our Digital Estate in mind – these days there is such a thing as digital executors, Digital estate planning, post death planning, online memorials, QR codes for headstones, cemetery mapping, virtual attendance at funerals, life after death in the form of holograms and so on. This industry will only increase as more and more innovation surrounds the death industry in the digital space.
Preparation for end of life has also gone digital with Google recently announcing a new AI tool that is able to predict the death of hospital patients with 95% accuracy, palliative care with digital music therapy to help slow breathing rates, ease anxiety and soften the path to end of life.
Bob Dylan said it best :
Come gather round people, wherever you roam
And admit the waters around you have grown
Accept it that soon youll be drenched to the bone
If your time is worth saving then you better start swimming