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The Online Funeral


Evan Selinger
By Evan Selinger
Wall Street Journal

Posted: Nov 7, 2012

My grandfather died on Halloween. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, none of the New York family members could attend the funeral in Massachusetts. Fortunately, another option became available: The ceremony was streamed online, and so my wife, daughter and I gathered around a laptop in our living room to watch the live webcast.

The rabbi began by giving technology center stage, poignantly acknowledging that the virtual participants played an important role in honoring the deceased’s memory. After that, technology receded into the background for the Massachusetts crowd. My grandmother looked like a bereaved widow. Online coverage didn’t affect her demeanor—or anyone else’s.

At my house, however, things were different. The technology raised all sorts of problems and questions.

For starters, there was the initial hurdle of gaining access to the webcast. A password was needed, and we were initially sent the wrong one. After conceding the mistake, the woman in charge of the set-up said that we could just catch the archived footage later on. She was trying to be helpful, but the digital convenience of it all felt completely out of place, as if we were making plans to watch a favorite sitcom later on DVR.

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Evan Selinger is Associate Professor of Philosophy and MAGIC Center Head of Research Communications, Community & Ethics, both at Rochester Institute of Technology. Evan publishes extensively in the areas of philosophy of technology, privacy, and ethics/policy of science and technology. To enhance public debate about ethics, Evan regularly supplements his peer-reviewed scholarship with outreach articles in places like The AtlanticWiredSlateForbes,The Wall Street Journal, and The Nation.
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