Remember Me Research Fellow Dr Mirka Hukelova explores the emerging practice of online memorialisation.
NY magazine has recently published article about the relatively new phenomenon of online memorialisation and the statistics are staggering, ‘nearly a million Facebook users will die this year, statisticians have calculated that in less than a hundred years, the site will have more dead users than living ones, the BBC has called it an unstoppable digital graveyard’.
Online memorialisation goes hand in hand with social networking and one’s presence in the online world. Social networks have been criticized for their tendency to isolate individuals and constrain their interactions with the outside world to the ‘online’. Growing interest in online memorialisation, however, shows that not everyone shares this view. In fact, online memorialisation can be beneficial in situations where bereaved individuals feel they cannot share their feelings in the ‘offline’ world. An increasing number of people find online memorialisation helps them to express their emotions freely without any time and space constrains in what is essentially a public online space. Something that is often more restrictive and even frowned upon in the ‘real’ world. Moreover, social network sites enable us to have our social identities preserved in the online universe almost indefinitely. Even in our death our social identities may continue is some shape or form. The relationship with the dead can be subsequently maintained within the online world of the living. This is a significant shift from the more traditional forms of memorialisation where the dead are often separated from the living. In the online world the two coexist side by side.
There are a growing number of virtual cemeteries and online memorials enabling bereaved persons to retain existing bonds with the deceased. The relationships and communication continue as the living are engaged in conversation with the dead. Online memorials provide space for this ongoing relationship, easily accessible to close family members, friends and also disenfranchised grievers who are often excluded in the traditional forms of memorialisation. The space is open for the bereaved, some of whom may not have met face to face, to share their grief, memories and experiences. These ‘conversations’, however, are held in a public space, an online platform where everyone else can see. Sometimes this includes complete strangers or people who did not know the deceased. This can lead to conflict or competing claims over who knew the deceased better and who has more of a right to grieve.
By their nature, online memorials cemeteries are difficult to regulate and restrict access to internet trolls and unwanted spam. They are not the permanent structures that we are used to seeing with more traditional forms of memorialisation. Typically for the online world, these memorials are subject to the refresh button and the fast changing interactive environment. However, they also offer more flexibility and easy access. The dead can now be reached with a click, there is no need for a physical journey to cemetery. This does not necessarily mean that online memorials replace some of the more permanent and traditional forms of memorialisation, they simply add another layer to remembrance.
Dr Mirka Hukelova was awarded a PhD in Politics from the University of Liverpool, examining Muslim identities from a comparative perspective, using the examples of Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic. During her PhD she also worked as a Research Associate on an ESRC/MRC/BBSRC research project (Enigma) at the University of Manchester. Her current research interests focus on how religious and cultural experiences contribute to one’s identity in contemporary globalised world. Mirka works as a Research Fellow on the AHRC research project ‘Remember Me. The changing Face of Memorialisation’ working on the case studies ‘Heroes and Loved Ones’, ‘Celebrating the Life’ and ‘Displaying the Self’.