Skip to main content

Will gravestones of the future represent your digital life?

Will gravestones of the future represent your digital life?

Share this story

Our phones track everything we do and everywhere we go. Our social networks track just how liked we are. The so-called Quantified Self becomes more quantified every day, but do those numbers actually add up to define a human being?

Don't forget about Instagram likes

A new artwork at Science Gallery Dublin imagines how all the data that we're accumulating could be brought back into the real world to define us after death. It places statistics about a person on a gravestone — number of Twitter followers, eBay feedback, Tinder matches, and so on — all of which is informative but fails to actually reveal anything about the human behind the numbers. That may be the ultimate irony of lifelogging: it can help us live and record everything that we do, but it says very little about who we actually are.

Still, the gravestone is a simplification. Many of those numbers represent other information that can tell us a lot about a person after death: tweets, status updates, photos, blogs, Pinterest boards, etc. Digital histories may not stay around forever, but they may just stick around for a while, letting future generations scroll through their ancestors' thoughts and interests.

Recently, after Facebook implemented its policy putting users in control of what happens to their accounts after death, I started thinking about the inevitable social graveyard that Facebook will soon have on its hands. It's possible that one day accounts for the dead will outnumber accounts for the living. That seems like an awful prospect for a network meant for the present moment, but it'd make Facebook serve as an incredible tool for short-term genealogy, allowing people to dig back through the day-to-day lives of their relatives, seeing their photos and reading their writing.

The quantified gravestone is part of Science Gallery Dublin's lifelogging exhibit, which opened earlier this month. It'll be showing through mid-April.