Have you seen the 2005 film Serenity? There was a scene where (mild spoiler alert) you see three gravestones overlooking rugged and rocky desert terrain. You might have noticed there was something different about these gravestones: they each held a digital pixel-style image hovering above the stone with a holographic portrait of each person who had passed. These mini-movies seem to only exist in the science fiction deathcare space. But maybe there’s a place for the future in our present.
The last decade has seen a boom in cemetery tourism, sometimes called “tombstone tourism.” “People have become increasingly interested in genealogy and the architecture, art, culture and historical examples found in cemeteries.” With this burgeoning interest, sites to find specific burial plots have popped up. One such site is Find a Grave (owned by Ancestry.com). The site boasts “over 226 million memorials created by the community since 1995.” From the homepage, you can search for a specific person or cemetery location. People can use this site for information on loved ones or even plot locations for celebrity burial sites, like Bruce Lee’s oft-visited grave in Seattle. The website has a Wikipedia-like format where anyone can contribute photos or edits to a page. Websites like this place cemetery information in a single digital space, where it’s more easily accessible to the masses.
A “living headstone” or headstone with a QR code is an option for you or your loved one. You can add a plaque with the code directly to the headstone or include the code on a laminated or plastic plaque next to the stone. The platform you choose to link the QR code to could be a Facebook page, website, obituary or even a pdf or video.
Kudoboard is another online platform to hold memories of loved ones. You can set up a board for your loved one and share written memories, photos and videos and invite family and friends to contribute as well. You can visit the board anytime or link it to a QR code as well.
You may have questions like: How long will the technology around QR codes last? How will the technology change? Is it worth printing even temporarily on a headstone? This article in The Atlantic can give you more information around those questions.
According to an article in Bloomberg, Beijing is “encouraging residents to swap ground burials for digital cemeteries…in a bid to reduce the amount of space taken up by public graveyards.” An article in Business Insider said, “When someone dies in China these days they’re typically cremated.” So, Beijing is encouraging residents to keep their loved ones cremated remains “inside stacked compartments personalized with photos and videos memorializing their [loved one’s] life.” “The State Council said that by 2035, Beijing will try to reduce the amount of land public cemeteries occupy by 70%.” The article also noted, “A digital cemetery spanning 215 square feet, for example, can accommodate more than 150 plots, compared to just six traditional gravesites.”
Beijing's Taiziyu Cemetery holds compartments for ashes with digital picture and video displays of the deceased on their doors. The article stated that since the beginning of 2023, more than 500 digital plots like these have been sold in Beijing. The city of Beijing also has a "green burial" program where cremated remains can be buried without a gravestone or mausoleum for free, and relatives receive a plaque with a QR code they can scan to for information of their loved one.
This UK-based project “seeks to develop new and relevant ways of caring for and memorializing the dead” “with the intention of experimenting with new approaches to designing cemetery spaces in a way that speaks to the contemporary world in which we live.” This includes sustainable burial spaces that incorporates digital concepts. The Future Cemetery organization held a design competition entitled: Future Dead: Designing Disposal for Both Dead Bodies and Digital Data. The competition asked that the participants imagine “a world where both human remains and a person’s digital footprint must be considered at the end of life.”
The winning team designed a cemetery space “comprised of a network of memorial vessels that transform biomass into light. These vessels are situated throughout a woodland space, which would be explorable via winding foot trails.” These lights seem to shoot up through the trees, marrying digital technology with traditional cemetery burial to create a visually-appealing space where people can visit and honor their loved ones.
While holograms on headstones might not be a popular option quite yet, advancements are continuously being made around the world in the deathcare industry. This digital progress can help save space and money as well as aid in environmentally-conscious efforts. In addition, digitizing certain aspects of cemeteries can offer a personalized, heartfelt option for remembering a loved one and sharing their life with others.
What digital options are you interested in learning more about or incorporating into your own end-of-life spaces?