INTRODUCTION (Key Questions)

This is the documentation place for my thesis project Live in Death (working title). Basically, it is a design project which focuses on new possibility between the rising digital legacy and traditional funeral culture.  

The core problem I am trying to tackle in Live in Death is: Do people need an emotional, mindful and reliable interface (service, or product, etc.) to save and represent our digital legacy, as a part of memento and metaphor, to make it widely accepted by traditional funeral culture, which has always been built based upon material culture? If the answer is yes, how to do it?

As the time goes, I will keep this place updated as my project developed in NYU, ITP. For this introduction, I am going to give you a gist about my project and the research outcomes I have done so far with introducing some key questions. 

Question 1: Why should we deal with digital legacy? What course to follow?

  1. Since digital culture (the Internet culture for instance) has already been a part of contemporary culture, when people who have created it passed away, this cultural heritage should be fell into funeral culture as a token to give it an end.
  2. Look at our history, no matter it is Pyramid or normal person's grave, the motivation behind of creating, inheriting and continuing funeral culture is, first of all, providing an environment for people who are alive for expressing their feeling of missing, honoring and mourning. Moreover, for deceased, extending their former life's influences and relationships is another aspect of the benefit of our funeral culture, which has been tremendously ignored while talking about digital legacy related issues.
  3. The perceived duration of an object — its capacity to endue time and to operate across time by encoding aspects of the past or future in the present moment — is crucial to its memory function. For instance, objects constructed in stone, wax, ivory paper or flowers to represent the body and flesh, have been associated with varying degrees of endurance such that material substances are seen in terms of their particular temporal qualities. —Death, Memory & Material Culture, Elizabeth Hallam & Jenny Hockey     Digital legacy has unique advantage to reaching these goals which is theoretically, it does not have limitation on duration and it has less limitation on time and space too. 

Question 2: How is the current status in this realm?

  1. Academia, law and other institutions and individuals are drawing more attention to the "ownership" of digital legacy. However, they over looked a critical fact that ownership is just the beginning of dying, mourning and remembrance. Further more, only focusing on ownership feels like to be selfish and lack of empathy, because no one is taking deceased's benefit into account. (Please note that I am not saying that ownership is not important toward this issue.)
  2. Existed products on the Internet could be divided into two types: either saving data to their platform or keeping your passwords and pass them to people who has the master password. Also, on Facebook user can "memorialized the page"; user could specify the in advance if Google does not hear from you for few months. However, no matter what kind of service it is, the similarity is that the experience they provide are all based on web (browser, as an interface), which is the point that I am feeling greatly doubtful. Why? I will explain this in the later questions.

Question 3: What is the reasonable way to give digital archive an end? 

As an essential part of social function of our funeral culture, triggering constant visiting is important as the way of extending deceased's relationship. No visiting, no extensibility. If we save digital legacy somewhere and not feed it into funeral culture, what is the point of saving it? They are just cold data as it was when it's been created. 

How to make the digital archive to be accepted by traditional funeral culture? I think the answer should be how to provide the same experience as being in funeral ceremony and its relevant social activities while checking digital content.

However, what is this experience? If you have any experience in your lover's funeral ceremony, think about what you were thinking and experiencing? First of all, Mourner is thinking about all the connections happened before and feeling the disconnections in the meanwhile. The more connections they had, the more stronger feeling of disconnection the mourner will be going through. Also, the experience should be mindful and immersive

So my thesis project will focus on recalling connection to trigger disconnection in a mindful way. The reason why I think the current service which is based on web is not mindful is because opening a browser is distracting. As we know that funeral ceremony and its relevant social practices are one of the most powerful, immersive experience design that human beings have been created, and I do not think that holding same ceremony by opening a browser and signing in a website is feeling right as part of such a highly personal, immersive and solemn manner. How come people want to use this kind of service to mourn their lovers? There is a phenomenon could explain this perfectly: people will visit his/her lover's Facebook page who passed away to leave some comments when some special days come. The feeling behind this scene is "Today is his/her memorial day or anniversary, I am gonna go and check it out.", rather than "I miss him/her so much, I need to check this ( the same as "I miss him/her, I need to go and visit his/her grave yard.")". The subtle difference here is many people are saying it feels weird to visit someone's Facebook page who passed away. However, no one is complaining about feeling weird when visiting graveyard. 

Question 4: Cut back to privacy. 

New issue keep popping up everyday. Rather than traditional personal belongings like letters, material objects, things like digital pictures, video and email might have more containing more private and sensitive content. Simply take deceased person's privacy into account is not enough, the potential abuse to others' privacy who relevant to these digital legacy cannot be over looked, especially when this "others" are still alive

The fragmentariness of digital archive makes it even harder to classify details in it and clarify the ownership of every detail. Further more, as you can see that more and more information has been created socially which means being created collaboratively. It's hard to say that who post it, who owned it. Could this be a case as associated ownership? For instance, if someone has been tagged into this photo, this person should share part of the ownership of this phone, at least, he/she should be entitled to access this photo

Why I am interested in this topic? What inspires me about this idea?

This could be a long story. However, you could get the idea from the pic above. 

I started learning and writing Chinese calligraphy, which is a “Black and White World”, since I was a kid. As growing up, I’ve got interested in the philosophy behind calligraphy, which is the theory of Taoism.

In Taoism, there are two main concepts, which are “Yin Yang” and “Qi”.

For Yin Yang, it is a theory about how to get a balanced relationship between human being and the nature(universe). The nature will keep moving and changing based on the rule of “Dao”. (Human being can never truly recognize what is Dao, let along change it.)The black and white dots represent the Yin and Yang of each other and can transform into the counterpart. Yin and Yang represent every two things are different or even opposite in nature.

“Qi” means the Energy, which makes the reference to the whole world and the foundation of the unity of the world. It is basic source of any tangible an intangible objects, including gods and spirits, as well as humans and ghosts, which significantly affects Chinese funeral culture a lot. The vital essence of Qi is called Jing (genuine energy), which is believed to be necessary to create anything when arranged in certain ways, which affects Chinese design thinking a lot also tremendously affects my design belief too (like the theory of “Feng Shui” and “Exists and Nothingness”).

I made a project called E-Tomb in 2010 and won the reddot design award, best of the best 2010. However, I was holding a product design thinking back then, and I do think that is way from enough in terms of the fact that funeral culture is one the most fascinating experience design that human being have ever created. So I think I need to more focus on crafting that experience via the digital content.

Now I assume you know why I am interested in this topic? I strongly feel like we need to keep our funeral culture up with this digital era