Media @ McGill

Li Cornfeld | Mourning Becomes Electronic: Death and Dying in Memorial Technology

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My project takes as its focus the intersections of death, dying, and the afterlife as constructed by the semi-publics of cyberspace. How might evolving technology create a new medium – in both the cyberspace and spiritualist senses of the word – for memorial communication?

In what ways might digital media form an archive, commemorating life lived, even as it suggests possibilities for ongoing communication with the deceased? The early twenty-first century saw the emergence of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, which nominally suggested physicality and geography, respectively, yet exist solely in the digital realm. What sort of afterlives develop when social network users die? In the absence of corporeality, what do their survivors mourn? I am particularly interested in how increased access to recording devices and the ease with which technology permits users to share the material they record allows socially marginalized media users to render their worlds visible while simultaneously forging affective communities. What rifts might such visibility create in which lives (and deaths) are constructed as socially significant, requiring documentation, broadcast, and memorial?

Investigating how the emergence of online social networking reinvigorates examinations of public mourning and the kinds of bodies which remain after death, I seek to contextualize my study within a historical and cultural framework. By connecting notions of eternity with an archive of the past, memorial technologies of varied historical periods interpolate cultural notions of the future. What might examining the intersections of private lamentation and technological innovation suggest, therefore, about the ways in which new media shapes the cultural imagination of both the future and the past? To what extent might media deployed for purposes of lamentation create an archive intended to (re)perform itself for an imagined future audience; to what extent honor the afterlife of the deceased? What tensions between futurity and eternity does memorial technology produce? Moreover, what do the junctures of technology and memorial reveal about the historiography of futurity?