I don’t remember ever thinking that I needed to start reading the obituary section of the newspaper; now, every morning after I’ve finished skimming the local news, I turn to the obituaries. The obits in the local paper usually contain a small photograph of the deceased, a listing of who preceded them in death, and who in the family they are survived by; their date of birth and death, as well as the date and location of the service, and any information of a luncheon reception is also included. You wouldn’t call the obits in the local paper great storytelling as do the readers of London’s The Telegraph and New York Times; those obits describe the careers, and the crimes and foibles of the good and the bad, as well as the famous and infamous.
I’m scrolling through the obits as if I’m scanning Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I don’t have time for any creative obituaries that use descriptive words such as susurration and obfuscation; I’m only looking for the date of birth of any recently deceased. As I scan the obits I’m also rehearsing mental subtractions so I can quickly determine the age of whose carked it, and if they were older or younger than me. I think reading the obits has given me an upside to the ageing process; an awareness I’m not dead yet. If I don’t see a John McAdam death announcement then I know I can have another cup of tea, put on my runners, and go outside for a little morning neighbourhood walk.
Whenever I log onto the web it always seems I’m stumbling upon something that I didn’t know about. I’m not saying that I start every one of my web adventures at the Google search bar looking for useless facts to become a top-notch Trivial Pursuiter. Every click on a link, and every click thereafter, sends me down a vortex and into a treasure trove of knowledge titbits; I have learnt that camels have three eyelids and two layers of eyelashes to keep sand from blowing in their eyes, the lint that collects in the bottom of pockets is called gnurr, and that a wild koala usually changes trees every day.
And I’ve discovered that print obituaries have gone online and transformed into memorial websites; digital images, music, and videos are now used to share the life story of a loved one. What if these e-memorials became Instagram eulogies; a photo and video sharing social network where you post simple and fun e-obits of a recently deceased. Imagine face filters applied to a loved one, creative selfies with tasteful backgrounds, and music video stories edited with the latest video editing apps; but one would need to be careful and not send readers 200 elements deep into a life story to find a name. Social media and smart devices have conditioned us to tap, zoom, scroll, swipe to navigate, and pinch to zoom in or out of different page elements. Scrolling and swiping e-obits, to catch up from a minute ago of who has been added to the latest obits, could become the new norm at mid afternoon work breaks, waiting to order lunch at restaurants, and riding public transport; and it would be a great way to make sure you’re not dead yet.
Facebook Live, Apple Facetime, and Instagram Live’s video streaming and video chat have caused print and static images to become so yesterday for sharing web experiences. Live video streaming has to be the next way to share the last journey of a loved one. I think funeral webcasting is the next viral emotional experience. FuneralOne has tried to make funeral webcasting as simple as Point, Click, & Cast Away by supplying webcasting funeral software to more than 2,000 US mortuaries. Cameras inside the chapel stream video through the webcasting software to a password protected web server, and relatives and friends are given log-in information to view the live feed of the deceased’s last journey. I think funeral webcasting will spread across the internet like a bushfire. People like to share emotional experiences; when we feel something, we want others to experience it as well.
The next time you see people in a pub sharing a smart screen over a few drinks, don’t rush to judge them; it’s most likely they’ll be watching one of their best mate’s funeral webcast and sharing a journey of grief. If you notice a Melbourne career worker fixated on their screen while ordering Chicken Curry Don at a pop up restaurant during their rushed lunch hour, don’t presume they’re checking their latest Facebook likes; it’s a penny to a quid they’re watching a live funeral webcast, and when they raise their hand it’s in a toast to the departed, not a means to attract a waitperson.
I don’t remember when I was last at a Costco but I recently learnt that they sold caskets; so off I went to see the caskets. I didn’t know you had to be a Costco member to enter the shopping warehouse
Costco greeter and membership card checker: (in a chirpy tone) Hello and welcome to Costco; do you have your membership card
Amazon offers a large choice of metal and wood caskets from several companies, and free shipping is available on eligible orders; and being able to read the reviews to narrow your choice is an added bonus of shopping with Amazon. Most casket shoppers seemed extremely pleased with the Titan Orion Coppertone Steel Casket
Titan Caskets is the first to tell you they spared no expense in creating the Orion Coppertone; it’s handcrafted and completed with a head and foot adjustable bed, a soft to the touch crepe interior, sculpted detailed hardware and reinforced stationary handles. It’s made in the USA from 20 Gauge Steel. Now that has to be some casket. If I was a pallbearer I bet I’d buckle under the Orion’s weight, and I’d probably have trouble walking straight.
I think it would be difficult to share the Varanasi ghats experience as a funeral webcast. There are about a 100 ghats along the Ganges River in Varanasi; they’re riverfront steps leading down to the banks of the River. The ghats are used for bathing, washing clothes, and worship rituals; two are used for cremations. Hindus believe that by casting the ashes of the deceased into the Ganges their soul will be transported to heaven, and so they will escape the cycle of rebirth. I didn’t go to Varanasi to look at the cremations but instead to look at the small room where George Harrison studied and learnt to play the sitar while sitting at the feet of Ravi Shankar. I remember there weren’t many tourists, only narrow laneways leading to the ghats, clouds of wafting sandalwood scented smoke, and my eyes constantly stinging from the smoke and incense. I couldn’t see the bodies as they were carried down the ghats and put on funeral pyres because they were wrapped in brightly coloured shrouds. The pyres though seemed alive; steadily hissing and steaming, and spitting burning embers into the air.
At the finish of the cremation, when the wood was burnt and charred, the ashes and any remaining bones are placed into the river. Many of India’s poor can’t afford to buy enough wood for a complete cremation so many half-burnt bodies are thrown into the river, and if there’s no wood for the cremation wrapped bodies are placed in the river and lit on fire. At the other ghats people bathed in the sacred waters; submerging and splashing themselves with the holy water to wash away their sins. Cows were wallowing and enjoying themselves in the same Ganges waters, and people busied themselves washing clothes. I left the ghats covered in human ash and with images of bloated and charred bodies floating in the river. And I left Varanasi without seeing the small room where George Harrison studied and learnt to play the sitar while sitting at the feet of Ravi Shankar; there was a lot of misunderstanding and confusion in the seventies.
I don’t think today’s digital natives will have to worry about funerals and cremations and reading the obits. The technology to create a digital surrogate from a 360-degree body scan is already here, and during their lifetime today’s mortals will have created, and collected over a trillion gigabytes of data about themselves. What else is needed to create a digital avatar? If your avatar was combined with a chatbot then you would be able to text, instant message, and chat from beneath a thin veil of death. And if virtual or artificial intelligence was added to the avatar then if your still living mates were having a barbie they’d just message your digital duplicate and you would Skype in to share a few ice colds from beyond the grave. Just like old times.
Even though I’m planning on having my ashes scattered I probably should start scouring the second-hand shops to find some old wooden beer crates; it’d be good to have a mock-up model of the coffin I’d like for my service.