Computing and Information Systems - Research Publications

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    Media, mortality and necro-technologies: Eulogies for dead media
    Nansen, B ; Gould, H ; Arnold, M ; Gibbs, M (SAGE PUBLICATIONS LTD, 2021-07-09)
    Working at the intersection of death studies and media studies, this article examines what we can learn from the death of media technologies designed for the deceased, what we refer to as necro-technologies. Media deaths illuminate a tension between the promise of persistence and realities of precariousness embodied in all media. This tension is, however, more visibly strained by the mortality of technologies designed to mediate and memorialise the human dead by making explicit the limitations of digital eternity implied by products in the funeral industry. In this article, we historicise and define necro-technologies within broader discussions of media obsolescence and death. Drawing from our funeral industry fieldwork, we then provide four examples of recently deceased necro-technologies that are presented in the form of eulogies. These eulogies offer a stylised but culturally significant format of remembrance to create an historical record of the deceased and their life. These necro-technologies are the funeral attendance robot CARL, the in-coffin sound system CataCombo, the posthumous messaging service DeadSocial and the digital avatar service Virtual Eternity. We consider what is at stake when technologies designed to enliven the human deceased – often in perpetuity – are themselves subject to mortality. We suggest a number of entangled economic, cultural and technical reasons for the failure of necro-technologies within the specific contexts of the death care industry, which may also help to highlight broader forces of mortality affecting all media technologies. These are described as misplaced commercial imaginaries, cultural reticence and material impermanence. In thinking about the deaths of necro-technologies, and their causes, we propose a new form of death, a ‘material death’ that extends beyond biological, social and memorial forms of human death already established to account for the finitude of media materiality and memory.
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    Automating Digital Afterlives
    Fordyce, R ; Nansen, B ; Arnold, M ; Kohn, T ; Gibbs, M ; Jansson, A ; Adams, PC (Oxford University Press, 2021-08-26)
    The question of how the dead “live on” by maintaining a presence and connecting to the living within social networks has garnered the attention of users, entrepreneurs, platforms, and researchers alike. In this chapter we investigate the increasingly ambiguous terrain of posthumous connection and disconnection by focusing on a diverse set of practices implemented by users and offered by commercial services to plan for and manage social media communication, connection, and presence after life. Drawing on theories of self-presentation (Goffman) and technological forms of life (Lash), we argue that moderated and automated performances of posthumous digital presence cannot be understood as a continuation of personal identity or self-presentation. Rather, as forms of mediated human (after)life, posthumous social media presence materializes ambiguities of connection/disconnection and self/identity.