October 20 2008 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Culture Year: 2013 Rating: 12 Hot
The increasing richness of memorial media is a powerful by-product of accelerating change in technology, information and communication. In five years time, both broad public-facing and private 3d memorial media has a good chance of taking off, gradually catalyzing a shift in the way we interact with history and our dearly departed.
How do we properly remember and honor the dead? Our cultural answer to this question has changed over the millennia alongside with the invention of memory-enhancing technologies such as symbols, spoken language, writing, photography, video, digital information and the web.
Now the trend continues as powerful new disruptors such as social media, semantic search, virtual worlds and mirror worlds allow us to assemble, aggregate and interact with information about the dearly departed in surprising new ways.
On the most basic level, crowd-edited text-based structures like Wikipedia have already catalyzed an explosion of biographical data capture and made possible a growing niche of specialized human memorial websites.
Similarly, account-driven portals like Geanealogy.com’s Virtual Cemetery Project, MyCemetery, and World Gardens have been growing in popularity and each lay claim to being “The World’s First Online Memorial and Virtual Cemetery” or such.
In the physical world, progressive cemetery Hollywood Forever, which boasts the densest concentration of celebrity gravesites, has sparked a media memorial trend by displaying actors’ hilight reels beside their tombs. (Yes, for a pretty steep price you too can purchase your very own Lifestories Kiosk.)
Still, it will take something more abrupt and profound to jar us into realizing just how much our relationship to death through media is about to change.
Enter virtual worlds.
The rapidly expanding 3d virtual world Second Life, in particular, has become a hotbed for complex new memorial media. Its denizens have already constructed a virtual Vitenam Memorial, tribute to 9/11 at Ground Zero, and even an entire island, Memoris, that allows users to purchase memorial plots for the real or virtual friends and family of their choosing. All of these areas are open to the public and can be visited by simply flying or teleporting your avatar to the proper coordinates.
Furthermore, the Second Life platform lets you embed additional links, images, video, pop-open websites and 3d objects to any location therein. It’s incredibly easy to create a cloud of media relevant to anything and everything. So memorial sites can readily serve as 3d, or even 4d, wiki repositories for all sorts of rich data pertinent to the deceased individual(s).
Now consider these trends. Over the next 5 years, Moore’s Law, evolving code, cloud computing and faster web connections will enable hundreds of millions of people to much more easily interact with virtual worlds like Second Life. Wherever appropriate, virtual environments will be incorporated into our standard web browsing experience. In some instances they’ll take the place of jpegs, in others they’ll replace the web pages themselves.
Among a host of other things, this will catalyze easily accessible and editable 3d profiles, biographies and mausoleums. It’s not much of a stretch to think these will quickly become popular as students, researchers, news reporters, family members and other interested parties regularly patronize these in addition to or in lieu of their Wikipedia bio counterparts.
Mash-up Potential: As 3d objects, environments, behaviors and the associated data become more portable (a trait that the public will continue to demand), and as virtual worlds are increasingly licensed for specific uses and open-sourced, these platforms will undergo fracture, recombination and, ultimately, rapid evolution.
Thus, it will become possible to create personal memorial sites for limited or family-only viewing and interfacing. These will then be sent around through email or accessed via a secure server.
It will also get increasingly easy to mash-up memorial media files into other simulations such as 3d neighborhoods (Google Earth, Street View, and Ray Gun), other virtual worlds and even compatible video game platforms (imagine inserting biographical information into historically accurate video games like Rome: Total War or stylized realities such as the NYC portrayed in Grand Theft Auto IV).
The possible variations are endless.
Cultural Implications: By interfacing with increasingly rich and accurate simulations of the dead, we will develop a more refined sense of history and more powerful context for our own behavior, physical traits and culture. Fundamentally, less time will be required to generate a better simulation of the past. More accurate and accessible simulations of our deceased ancestors, friends, role-models and cultural icons will profoundly affect the way we benchmark, learn behavior, conduct research, perceive society and look at time itself. Such media co-evolution may prove to be very disruptive to our existing culture(s).
Simulating All Human History: Given that the retro-active quantification of all human information, aka assembling history, seems to be a natural human instinct, it’s conceivable that in a decade or so we’ll begin to make serious progress assembling a simulated 3d, really 4d, history of our entire planet, thus building a rough version of what Yale computer scientist David Gelernter calls the planet on a “time toggle”. The dynamic personality memorials and simulations that we create will be essential components of any such effort.
Considering the expected acceleration-enabled increases in hardware, software and information retrieval, it becomes conceivable that this historical simulation will gradually take on a “life” of its own as we continue to embed our increasingly virtualized intelligence into this system. Such a structure composed of increasingly intelligent ancestral and biological agents and systems would increasingly open the door to the possibility that we ourselves are in fact living in a very advanced version of such a simulation, an idea that futurist Nick Bostrom believes is probable if in fact we deign to generate such simulations. (Imo, the only scenarios in which we will not end up creating ancestral simulations are one in which we reach fundamental physical/technological limits, experience existential disruption, or collectively arrive at an enforceable decide to abandon our evolutionary drive to retro-quantify the system.)
Final Thoughts (no pun intended): The increasing richness of memorial media is a powerful by-product of accelerating change in technology, information and communication. In five years time, not only will broad public-facing 3d memorial media take-off, private will as well. In 10-20 years time we may see some amazing leaps in retro-active quantification of our entire system.
This will be very disruptive, from a cultural perspective, but also potentially very beneficial to our species. Rather than witnessing a boom in Speakers for the Dead, as Orson Scott Card surmises in his Ender’s Game series, perhaps we’ll be able to capture more of their characteristics, enabling a situation where we may be able to effectively “converse” with them.
Given such a plausible future, what kind of legacy or “world” would you like to leave behind?
Incidentally, memorial media is not solely reserved for humans. I also came across this Virtual Pet Cemetery while researching this piece. :)