'Digital eternity' beckons as death goes high-tech

Oct 31, 2012 by Alexandra Turcat
Workers install an 'iron grave' ('fer tombal' in French) of the family of Serge Danot who died in 1990 and was the creator of the French television programme "The Magic Roundabout" ("Le Manege enchante" in French), on October 25, 2012 in Nantes, in western France. Made of steel and varnished, this new kind of grave made by French company Funeralconcept allows a personalised burial.

Death is no longer the fusty business it once was: from swipeable bar codes on headstones to designer urns, webcam-based ceremonies and virtual memorials, funerals have shot into the 21st century.

Can't make it to a faraway funeral? No problem. A growing number of undertakers will let you take part via the web, with mourners hooking up to join the ceremony via a secure Internet connection.

"Families are more and more spread out, these days people can have relatives at the four corners of the country or the globe, far from their place of birth," explained Eric Fauveau, who operates webcam services for French crematoriums.

Relatives can even opt to keep a copy of the ceremony on DVD, as part of the add-on cost of 100 to 195 euros ($130 to $250).

For the truly high-tech touch, several undertaking firms have started embedding bar codes at grave sites, to be scanned with a to call up an online biography complete with pictures, videos or tributes to the deceased.

Seattle-based Quiring Monuments began offering the QR, or Quick Response codes—commonly used in ad campaigns—last year, and French start-up "Memory History" and undertaker Chester Pearce from England followed suit this year.

Pitched as much at relatives as strangers curious to find out about the deceased, the bar code service comes with a ranging from $75 in the United States to up to £300 (370 euros/$480) in Britain.

Far-flung families wanting to post condolences, light a digital candle, or memories, can choose from dozens of online memorial sites, a well-established US phenomenon that has newly caught on in Europe too.

"A little piece of digital eternity," is how Fauveau, who launched one such service in France, describes it.

Workers instal an 'iron grave' ('fer tombal' in French) of the family of Serge Danot who died in 1990 and was the creator of the French TV programme "The Magic Roundabout" ("Le Manege enchante" in French) in Nantes, western France, on October 25, 2012. The start-up company Funeralconcept offers tomb plates in laser-sculpted steel that can be carved into the shape of a musical instrument.

Increasingly part of the Facebook generation, the fast-growing ranks of web-literate seniors are a key reason for the shift of memorial services online.

Facebook itself offers the option of turning a into a virtual memorial by "freezing" the profile after its owner dies, but leaving it open to tributes.

The web also enables people approaching the end of their lives to reach out before they go.

One example of this is the French foruforever.net, launched two years ago under the slogan "Death is Part of Life", which today counts some 300 "life albums", according to its founder Sandrine Tenaud.

"Since death has become such a taboo, people are often left in a panic when the time comes to reach out to their relatives," Tenaud explained. "The web makes it easy."

As members of the baby-boomer generation take their final bow—and the place of religion declines in the West—funeral ceremonies are also changing drastically, with a large place opening up for music and humour.

"You are celebrating a life, not a death," summed up Herve Mankowski, an undertaker from Brest in western France, who played AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" as the tongue-in-cheek soundtrack for one recent funeral.

With cremation on the rise in the West, accounting for 30 percent of funerals in France, and more than 70 percent in Britain—among the highest shares in Europe—firms are also tapping into the need for modern types of physical memorial.

Urnea, a young firm set up in the Pyrenees by two French artists, Cyril Amouroux and Benoit Alcouffe, dreamed up designer urns that can be stacked into a column, for members of a same family for instance.

Made from aluminium-titanium alloy, their urns come with a 99-year warranty.

As for your traditional headstone, you can jazz that up, too.

The start-up company Funeralconcept, from Vendee in western France, offers tomb plates in laser-sculpted steel that can be carved into the shape of a musical instrument, or painted with a glorious sunset.

"Since I was a blacksmith, some friends asked me to imagine something for one of their friends," explained the firm's founder Freddy Pinault, who has notched up several dozen orders since launching in September.

Among the most recent, a colourful monument to the memory of the late Serge Danot, creator of the cult children's television classic "The Magic Roundabout", who died in 1990.

Explore further: LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Humanist funerals

May 16, 2012

Funeral directors need to be aware of the needs of non-religious people. A unique investigation into the subject funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) provides a snapshot of a defining aspect of life - ...

Steve Jobs honored online and off

Oct 19, 2011

Steve Jobs was honored online and off Wednesday as tributes poured into a memorial website set up by Apple and the company's shops closed temporarily for workers to mourn his loss.

Recommended for you

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

Apr 18, 2014

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

Apr 18, 2014

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

White House updating online privacy policy

Apr 18, 2014

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 02, 2012
I want my digital grave to include my full genome, mitochondrial genome, and as much biodata as possible so that I can be used for scientific studies for the next millenium.

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...