The typical gravestone hasn’t changed in hundreds, if not thousands of years. That said, there are more than a few companies out there trying to use modern technology to upgrade the traditional stone or marble marker. With the likes of wi-fi, video screens and QR codes abound, are these new additions useful or just a hi-tech gimmick?
Fulfilling a Purpose
Technology should first and foremost, fulfill a purpose. Gravestones serve to mark a burial location and allow people to mourn. Since additional technology, such as screens and wireless features, require the original tomb stone, they are often fulfilling the same need. Still, one could argue they are enhancing it, allowing the mourning process to use the internet and smart phones for a more personalized experience. Some technologies can restrict access to the website, ensuring it is only for those coming to mourn and not for random people passing by; the choice, of course, is entirely up to whomever is in charge.
One main advantage that’s worth considering is that these new methods allow people to customize their gravestones and add more unique, relative content in an age dominated by social media. Even the likes of Facebook are allowing users to keep their page up as memorial pages after they’re gone. This is a useful way for people to connect in a way they are increasingly familiar with. Some on-site versions allow people to log in and leave comments when visiting to mourn or pay their respects. This allows people to leave tributes and messages that have a much greater longevity than leaving cards or flowers, for instance, and can be added to by those that visit later. As discussed later, this does also bring its own issues into account, such as who controls the page or website in question.
If the grave is taken care of, a QR code will last forever. However, all forms of emerging gravestone technology often have a limit on their usefulness. QR codes still link to a website that needs to be maintained, while screens, wireless nodes and other interactive features require power as well. The problem here is that this requires work and for someone to keep something running. This puts a constant effort on a close relative and, as demand declines over the years, the technology becomes questionable in value. On the other hand, one could argue that the likes of social media services take care of themselves, with only a little input from the controlling user, which makes for a better alternative than managing a custom site.
On-Site vs Off-Site Technology
One of the reasons the demand for such an item will steadily decline is that not everyone regularly visits a grave. Sometimes people live too far away or have less of a need to visit so often as time goes on. This puts a firm shelf-life on any such technology for customers and there’s a chance that off-site technology might gain an advantage. The likes of Facebook, mentioned earlier, as well as dedicated memorial websites and livestreams, already provide similar mourning experiences without having to visit the burial plot itself. These experiences allow people to pay their respects from their home and, in many ways, this replaces many of the purposes that a gravestone has. As much as new technology helps, has it not gotten to the point that the gravestone-based technology has already been superseded?
On a similar note, one could also look at the technology in terms of accessibility. It’s estimated that around 65% of people in America, alone, have a smart phone, with similar results seen across the globe. This is what a lot of gravestone technology interacts with and, based on these figures, it makes tombstones interactive with the large majority of the population. This is also something bound to increase as smart phone adoption only goes up. For now, smart phones are a common enough phenomenon but, using the above statistic, it does leave out 35% of people in America because they simply don’t own the requisite technology.
Respect and Control
One problem with technologies such as these is that everyone mourns differently, yet these gravestone features are often decided by a small group, typically the immediate family. Others may feel they are too much of a gimmick, while some may find them entirely useful. On a similar note, there’s also the issue of control. With some codes and internet links, access can be restricted or granted, which gives the power to a specific individual. Who gets to decide, for instance, which close friends get access to the website or online memorial? While social media often has strict rules about access, private sites and other services may not. When some can and others cannot access the same tribute or service, the tombstone suddenly creates a different experience for two groups.
Finally, one should always bear in mind that technology often moves at quite a fast rate. Indeed, the technology of yesterday is often considered obsolete relatively quickly. While internet features can somewhat survive this, as it’s a case of updating the website not the wireless linking, this is not true for video screens, recorded messages and other hardware-related options. The modern monitor has gone through many iterations in recent history – from standard screens to LCD and even HD formats – making every previous variant look old and out of date. As those that know the deceased also move on, are they willing to upgrade these features or will they continue to look outdated as years go by?
As you can see, there are plenty of issues in regards to gravestone technology. While they can enhance the mourning process and offer a more interactive experience, it often seems to be a very high end solution for a very small problem. This may simply be something that is down to an individual’s preferences, but it’s not clear how easier, if at all, these additions make the mourning or remembering processes.
Robert Bruce is an American mortician who has worked in all aspects of funeral service with Great Lakes Caskets in the state of Ohio. He has a passion for lending his voice towards multiple issues involving the funeral and memorial industry, so when he’s not taking care of the dead, he enjoys his hobby as a writer. His most recent interests center around the use of technology in the modern funeral industry.
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