Stacey Pitsillides

Stacey Pitsillides

LECTURE on Wednesday 8 February 2012 9.30am DT001

I see an important aspect of researching ‘Digital Death’ to be the opening of these research questions in the form of conversation, to everybody, as it is truly a topic that will continue to have an increasing impact on all our lives. My study seeks to use the systems of spirituality and social behaviour which can exist within the digital world to create design concepts which deal with digital death, as a “social relation” (J.Baudrillard:1993), pushing the boundaries of how we view and deal with death in the digital world.

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Links >>>

http://www.digitaldeath.eu/

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1 comment
  1. danbrowne08 said:

    Todays lecture on Digital Death was from Stacey Pitsillides, we’ve all come to know her as a lecturer guiding us through projects on various topics. However on this occasion we were allowed a glimpse into her world and what she herself works on and finds interesting. For Stacey her interest in the topic of Digital Death started when she came upon an animal cemetery in the online world Second Life. The existence of such a thing in an online space was puzzling so she spoke to the owner of the cemetery. He (at the time appearing as a penguin) told her that he had a cat that was very dear to him in his real life, their closeness akin to the relationship between a brother and sister. When this cat passed away there was nowhere where he was living that he could bury her, so he thought an online digital memorial in  Second Life would be a fitting tribute.

    With constant innovations in technology, pieces of kit such as computers and laptops have become not so much tools to “live with” but to “live through” [1]. It’s not uncommon in this day in age to have a mobile phone constantly on and within reach at all times, whereas thinking back only 10 years ago this would have been a completely alien idea. It’s only in the last few years due to the growing popularity of the internet as a whole and social networks such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter that we have started to archive personal information and data in online spaces. The increase in online archiving might also be due to the fact that we have a limited amount of physical space in the real world in which to store data like conversations with friends, photos from holidays and anything else you might want to store. In a way because of this obsessive behaviour being allowed to expand to infinity if desired on the internet, we have lost some of our humanity and become what some might call a “post-human” [2] in this digital world.

    Some incredibly deep and complex questions are generated by the introductory statement  to the Digital Death website, “Death is a part of life and life has become digital” [3]. There are many things in the modern world that we have grown up around and know how to interact with. However the relatively recent emergence of the Digital World has forced humanity into a situation where many ethical issues and moral concepts haven’t yet been thought through and dealt with. Death is one of these issues and the rule book isn’t even being contemplated as we stride blindly into the future unaware of what will happen to our data after we die.

    Data such a photos now has an extended and uncertain lifetime because of the digital world. When X takes a photo of X-Y-Z, that photo belongs to X at that point in time. It exists on their camera and nowhere else but the un-digital memory of X-Y-Z. When the photo is transferred onto the computer of X it is still theirs, but it has now been saved to a hard drive and has entered a more permanent existence. X will then share this photo on Facebook online, it will then become the property of X-Y-Z again and will be stored by Y-Z, Facebook and anyone else who wants to download it. This increases the likelihood that the photo will now exist forever or until the time that ALL locations the digital photo has been stored in are completely destroyed, which is highly unlikely to ever happen. After X-Y-Z have died the photo will belong to their ancestors, and after they die it will be a photo from the past. It is here that there is no telling what will happen with the photo, it could become lost, considered rubbish or even part of history.

    The way we react to death of loved ones has also changed in this new digital world, and not for the better. Stacey states in her book (Digital Death {Missing Bits} P17-18) that “In England grief is generally a private emotion”. When Princess Diana tragically died in 1997 the UK was stunned and for the first time this long upheld value was ignored. A state of public grief ensued and many people left flowers, chocolates and personal messages. This behaviour and a genuine feeling of collective loss was perhaps an indication of what the world was to become.

    In 2009 the King of Pop Michael Jackson also died, but this time there was one crucial difference in the way people showed their collective grief for him. Millions of people worldwide chose to take to their social network pages and put the letters ‘RIP’ in front of their status as a sign of respect and grief for him. One has to question whether this new form of grief really means something, if anything at all. For someone to believe that placing letters in front of their status is fitting, they must believe that their status is in someway important enough for it to be used as a respectable way of portraying grief.

    One rather terrifying way in which social networks are being used for the ‘greater good’ and to help charitable organisations is through the ‘Digital Death Campaign’. This was launched in the USA last year, and aims to raise money for the Keep a Child Alive Campaign. Many ‘famous’ people agreed to stop updating their social network profiles and create the effect of a ‘Digital Death’ for as long as it took to raise $1,000,000. Unsurprisingly the money was eventually raised and the updates returned. This is one rather disturbing example of how the use of social networks has become so engrained in out daily lives that some could simply not stand knowing what their favourite celebrity was doing/eating/seeing, so much so that they would pay money in order to see the safe return of these updates to their lives. This is neither a constructive way to make people donate to charity, nor is it a flattering snapshot of modern society and it did not address properly the issue of Digital Death. In this context it meant simply that people would stop updating and didn’t really make people wonder what might happen to their profiles after death and all of their data within it.

    The lecture ended with a few slides about companies that have been set up in the recent past since the boom in social network usage whose sole purpose is to hold your ‘digital will’. You can pay for a company to store your usernames and passwords so that after you die they can be passed on to your loved ones, and your profiles and all of your data can be accessed. This is a scary thought and an interesting note to end the lecture on, it definitely made me think really in-depth about death and the effect it has on this new digital world. I find this topic endlessly interesting and I look forward to reading more on what Stacey Pitsillides has written on the topic.

    You can find Stacey and her extensive collection of work on Digital Death at:

    http://www.digitaldeath.eu

    [1] Pitsillides, S., 2012. Digital Death Lecture, DESI 1109 GAMSWEN. University of Greenwich, unpublished.

    [2] Pitsillides, S., 2012. Digital Death Lecture, DESI 1109 GAMSWEN. University of Greenwich, unpublished.

    [3] Digital Death, 2012. Intro. (online) Available at: [accessed 8 February 2012]

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