Investigation III - Digital Monument

Investigation III: Digital Monument

About this Investigation

Quiring Monuments' [Living Headstone](

Quiring Monuments’ Living Headstone

Investigations are a series of small exercises designed to explore a conceptual space and culminates with a made artefact. The format is 3-week rapid explorations of a theme, idea or theory.

Over the last two module’s we’ve explored memory and technology largely at a small scale and for the individual. Now, we’ll shift the frame in a couple of ways. We’ll think beyond the individual to shared scenarios around mediating memory through technology. We’ll move beyond objects and start to think about broader scenarios in the world. We’ll imagine smart and augmented spaces at the scale of buildings, outdoor areas, parks and neighborhoods. Finally, we’ll shift the timescale and be much more prospective than in the last few projects.

Specifically, we’ll explore remembrance and how an increasingly networked world presents new opportunities to memorialize individuals, groups, or happenings. We’ll consider our digital legacy - digital stuff we leave behind - meets the physical world.

How might existing places of remembrance (cementaries), celebration (monuments) or memorial (museums) might be augmented, extended or enhanced through our digital legacy?

We’ll start by exploring these sites and asking how we currently enode memory in real and virtual places. From there we’ll begin to question how these sites of remebrance might take on new significance, hold new value or be reimagined in a hybrid world. In these sites how might they blend the physical and the digital to give new opportunities to remember, celebrate or immortalize a life?

What does it mean to be remembered or celebrated in a world of networked memories? How does digital legacy intersect with the spaces that already exist to celebrate/remember?

Learning goals

This exercise is designed to give a broader and more speculative frame to our explorations to help you consider the societial, cultural and spatial significances of networked memory. It’ll help you begin to consider technology-supported memory as something that is situated in the world and that might integrate with many of the customs, practices and sites we have about remembrance today: As part of this exercise, you will:

  • Develop an understanding concepts in digital legacy, and the socio-cultural considerations around managing personal digital content in a generational context;

  • Investigate current sites for remembrance, celebration or memorial as a means to inform future possibilities for digitally enhanced spaces;

  • Examine existing technologies and precedents that explore themes of collective remembrance and hybrid spaces for memorial;

  • Speculate on how hybrid practices (blended physical digital space) might be used to enhance scenarios of remembrance;

  • Work collaboratively in an applied investigation to tease-out the broader considerations, issues and requirements in building memory-technologies (social, cultural, personal, biological implications etc.)


“For the first time in history, people are dying and leaving behind large amounts of personal information stored in computers and on networked systems. As a result of the widespread use of personal computing devices, age-old biological, social and cultural events concerning death are being newly mediated by contemporary technological contexts….”
Massimi, Michael, and Andrea Charise. Dying, death, and mortality: towards thanatosensitivity in HCI. CHI’09 Extended Abstracts. ACM

As we mediate more and more of our social lives through social and online platforms, there is an increasing need to acknowledge that death is part of our lives and something that these systems must account for. Consequently Massimi & Charise, call for a thanatosensitivity in systems design or that we should acknowledge our mortality upfront and ‘engage with the inevitable death of [the] user’ as platforms are being built.

Facebook - a platform with a billion users and millions of profiles for dead people - have to deal with this reality. They provide the ability to convert an account to a ‘Memorialized Account’, a process that converts a deceased user’s profile into an online and enduring shrine to support mourning in cyberspace. While Facebook approaches this as an additional feature, other platforms like the World Wide Cemetery Dead Man’s Switch, and many more are services specifically designed to support end-of-life post-life practices through digital means.

With this rise not only of digital content about ourselves and services now beginning to consider mortality as a design requirement, how does this affect or integrate with our spaces for remembrance and celebrating a life? Karla Rothstein speculates on this:

“As more social interaction, as well as the crafting and performance of identity, is conducted online, digital footprints might come to feel like a more suitable surrogate for the living self than the corpse in a tomb. “
Rothstein, Karla. “The New Civic–Sacred: Designing for Life and Death in the Modern Metropolis.” Design Issues 34.1 (2018): 29-41.

Fenestra]( by Will Odum

Fenestra]( by Will Odum

And there are already hints at these potentials. Will Odum as part of Fenestra explores “how digital materials can be embodied in interactive systems to open up new ways of supporting everyday practices of memorialization in the home” while Hadas Arnon‘s ‘Digital Cemetery’ reconceives the cemetery as a series of USB sticks containing the digital legacy of loved ones that can be reexperienced in new ceremonies of remembring. Rothstein’s own DeathLab at Columbia University questions the cultural conventions of death and dying through blended architectures for death and memorial.

[DeathLab]('s Tower of Silence, Givat Shaul Cemetary and Koukkokuji Buddist Temple.

DeathLab’s Tower of Silence, Givat Shaul Cemetary and Koukkokuji Buddist Temple.

These examples underscore Rothstein’s observation that the “cultural transitions away from the gravesite as the locus of permanence are already underway.” So what is the role of the digital in offering new or alternative spaces for remembrance?

To explore this, and as part of this investigation, we will ask three questions as part of this module:

  • Digital Legacy: What happens to the digital stuff we leave behind?
  • Rememory: What does it mean to be remembered or celebrated in a world of networked memories?
  • Spatializing Memory: How does digital legacy intersect with the spaces that already exist to celebrate/remember?

Or more broadly we’ll engage in questioning how the rise of digital stuff about our live affects the places and practices for celebrating and remembering lives and events:

  • How do we prepare for our legacy in a digital world?
  • Who mediates our memories after we’re gone? Who is the gatekeeper?
  • How do we recontextualize our histories?
  • What are the sites, spaces and practices for remembering those who are gone?
  • How do we celebrate cultural memories or significant individuals if we have their digital memories?

Content and Methods

To speculate hybrid spaces for collective remembering; we’re first develop an understanding of the potential directions such projects could take. Each of you will research a topic of interest to you and share a set of ‘signals’ that indicate future potentials. You’ll report these back to the group. This will first help you build familiarity anf give us as a group a framework for possible future concerns and considerations that we can draw on in our explorations. This catalog will allow us to begin to chart the possiblities for your own proposals. Using your research, you’ll develop a proposal, and we’ll forecast into and backcast from the future to explore it’s plausability and possibility. Building on this speculative timeline you’ll then collaboratively develop a conceptual design and realize a ‘prototype’ and a plan for an blended space that imagines future possibilities for digital legacies.

Specificially, this module will formally introduce themes surrounding memorials, monuments and shared remembrance as well as digital legacy. To do this, we’ll critically examine and document current spaces for memorial and remembrance as part of our warmup. Case studies will be used to identify potential future conditions we’ll need to design for. Using these precedents as an inspirational resource, we’ll speculate on new hybrid spaces and rituals that would allow us to re-encounter events or individuals from the past through their digital legacy. In addition to themes of digital legacy, we’ll continue to explore methods for designing provocative objects through making, Specifically, we’ll look at how backcasting can help us prospect to a future world and reverse engineer a timeline to a plausible future around your critical or speculative designs.


Date Type Description
Tues, Mar 6 Intro Digital Legacy and Sites of Remembrance
In Class Exercise
Thurs, Mar 8 Screening The Final Cut (2004)
Tues, Mar 20 Methods Developing Futures & Backcasting
In Class Exercise
Thurs, Mar 22 No Class Meet in teams develop project / proposal
Tues, Mar 27 Tech Tech Talk: Designing networked spaces
Thurs, Mar 29 Desk Crits Feedback on creative project development; 5 mins per person + office hours
Thurs, Apr 2 Review Crit of creative project. Prepare a lightning Demo - 10 mins per group; 10 mins discussion

Deliverables and Deadlines

Due Date Deliverable Details
Thur, Mar 8 Think Piece Research a think piece on memorials in a networked age on Slack in #thinkpieces.
Tues, Mar 20 Proposal Create a proposal for your creative project (200 words + illustrations) and share on the Gallery
Tues, Mar 20 Case Identify and describe a series of signals for future conditions. Share on Slack in #cases.
Thur, Mar 22 Warmup Share your Warmup on Slack in #projects.
Tues, Mar 27 Map Develop an experience map/networked interactions to describe the experience through the memorial
Tues, Mar 29 Project Develop a rough cut to discuss during desk crits
Thur, Apr 2 Project Present your prototype in class.
Thur, Apr 2 Digital Crit Give feedback projects in class
Thur, Apr 2, midnight Documentation Deliver documentation of your creative project

Warm up Exercise

Sites of Remembrance: Explore and document interactions at a site for remembrance. Document with photo and video. Describe the use of the space, interaction with objects, occupant flows, etc. Report observations. Time Limit: 2 hours

Read the full description.

Think Piece

Research and report on a topic directly related to the themes of the module: Digital Legacy, Remembrance and Memorial Document and report your findings to the class and reflect on their implication for what and how we’ll make. Read the full description.

Case Study

Find sources that signal to future change for on designing memorials and monuments. Gather 1 strong ‘signals’ and 2-3 weak signals. Reflect on the change that it heralds and why we should pay attention to it. Report your discoveries. Read the full description.

Creative Project

Taking cues from Memorials for the Future and the Final Cut, design a hybrid space to act as a site of memorial in a 10 year horizon. The monument should be a site of memorial for of an individual that has not yet died or cultural event that has not yet happened. It should speculate on technology’s role in a digital legacy and explore collective remembrance or memorialization that mixes digital and physical interactions to support a digital legacy. Read the full brief.


The Final Cut (2004) Trailer · IMDB


Set in a world with memory recording implants, Alan Hakman is a cutter, someone with the power of final edit over people’s recorded histories. His latest assignment is one that puts him in danger.

Extra Credit

You can earn an extra 2.5% credit as part of this module by attending a public lecture by Bruce Sterling. To earn this credit attend the lecture and document your experience as a short 150-200 word write up. Submit your experience report on Slack as a post as a DM (direct message) to the course instructors and TAs.

Steiner Lecture in Creative Inquiry: Bruce Sterling 5:00pm Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 CMU College of Fine Arts, Kresge Auditorium

A futurist, journalist, science-fiction author and design critic, Bruce Sterling (@bruces) is best known for his novels and his seminal work on the Mirrorshades anthology, which defined the cyberpunk genre. His nonfiction works include The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992); Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years (2002), a popular science approach on futurology, reflecting technology, politics and culture of the next 50 years; and Shaping Things (2005), a rumination on programmable, networked objects. Sterling has also initiated various projects like The Dead Media Project, the Viridian Design Movement and Embrace the Decay.

In 2003 Sterling was appointed Professor at the European Graduate School, where he has taught courses on media and design. He has written for many magazines, including Newsweek, Fortune, Harper’s, Details, Whole Earth Review, and WIRED, where he has been a contributing writer since its inception. He has appeared on Nightline, The Late Show, Morningside, MTV, and TechTV and in Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Nature, I.D., Metropolis, Technology Review, Der Spiegel, La Stampa, La Repubblica, and many other venues. Currently he lives in Turin, Italy.


Review For Class

Tues, Mar 6 Moncur, Wendy, and David Kirk. “An emergent framework for digital memorials.” Proceedings of the 2014 conference on Designing interactive systems. ACM, 2014.
Thurs, Mar 8 No Readings.
Tues, Mar 20 Dreborg, Karl H. “Essence of backcasting.” Futures 28.9 (1996): 813-828.


  • Daisuke Uriu and William Odom. 2016. Designing for Domestic Memorialization and Remembrance: A Field Study of Fenestra in Japan. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘16). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 5945-5957. DOI:

  • Michael Massimi and Andrea Charise. 2009. Dying, death, and mortality: towards thanatosensitivity in HCI. In CHI ‘09 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ‘09). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2459-2468. DOI:

  • Bonder, Julian. 2009. On Memory, Trauma, Public Space, Monuments, and Memorials. Places.

  • Jens Andermann and Silke Arnold-de Simine. January 2012.  Introduction, Memory, Community and the New Museum, Theory Culture & Society 29(1):3-13

  • Johnson, N. C. (2004) Public Memory, in A Companion to Cultural Geography (eds J. S. Duncan, N. C. Johnson and R. H. Schein), Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Malden, MA, USA.


Hallam, E. and Hockey, J. Death, Memory and Material Culture. Berg Publishers, 2001.

Avril Maddrell and James D Sidaway (eds). 2010. Deathscapes: spaces for death, dying, mourning and remembrance. Surrey : Ashgate

Scott H. Church. 2013. Digital Gravescapes: Digital Memorializing on Facebook, The Information Society 29 (2013), pp. 184–189; doi:

Christine S. Davis, Davis, Christine S, Quinlan, Margaret M, Baker, Debra K. Constructing the Dead: Retrospective Sensemaking in Eulogies, Death Studies, January 2016

Carroll, B. and Landry, K. (2010) ‘Logging On and Letting Out: Using Online Social Networks to Grieve and to Mourn’, Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 30(5), pp. 341–349.

Michael Massimi and Andrea Charise. 2009. Dying, death, and mortality: towards thanatosensitivity in HCI. In CHI ‘09 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ‘09). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2459-2468. DOI:

Michael Massimi, William Odom, Richard Banks, and David Kirk. 2011. Matters of life and death: locating the end of life in lifespan-oriented hci research. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 987-996. DOI=

Ellis Gray, Selina and Coulton, Paul (2013) Living with the dead : emergent post-mortem digital curation and creation practices. In: Digital legacy and interaction : post-mortem issues. Human–Computer Interaction Series . Springer, Berlin. ISBN 9783319016306

William Odom, Richard Banks, David Kirk, Richard Harper, Siân Lindley, and Abigail Sellen. 2012. Technology heirlooms?: considerations for passing down and inheriting digital materials. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 337-346. DOI:

Lindley, S.E., Calvillo Gámez, E.H., Gámez Leija, J.J. (2010) Remembering rituals of remembrance: Capturing Xantolo through SenseCam, in CHI 2010 workshop on HCI at the End of Life., April 2010

Sandhaus P, Baumgartner, H., Meyer, J., Boll, S. (2010) That was My Life: Creating Personal Chronicles at the End of Life, In HCI at the End of Life: Understanding Death, Dying and the Digital, Workshop at CHI 2010, Atlanta Georgia


Below is a list of additional online material that relates to the module and provides a starting point for your explorations. This is by no means exhaustive i.e. you should read/research beyond it.

Lists and Aggregators

Projects and Cases

‘Timescape’ Exhibit Reads the News Since 9/11

A Museum of Collective Memory - Description of work by LocalProjects. “The events of September 11 are still raw in our memories, existing somewhere between history and current news. A traditional approach to a historical museum using an “official” narrative would be impossible. Instead, we presented a collective, ongoing story told by those who lived it.”

See also: 911 Memorial and The Near-Impossible Challenge of Designing the 9/11 Museum


Palimpsest – Collective memory through Virtual Reality

Palimpsest “uses 3D scanning and virtual reality to record urban spaces and the communities that live in them. The project aims to question/test the implication if the past, present, and future city could exist in the same place, layering personal stories and local histories of the city at a 1:1 scale.”

In 1998, researchers discovered that mathematical proofs by Archimedes had been overwritten with biblical texts by monks in the 13th century. Documents such as this, with previous erasures still visible beneath the primary text, are known as palimpsests. Architecture can also be a palimpsest: as cities and buildings are modified and re-purposed, traces of their previous lives remain visible.

Fenestra]( by Will Odum

Fenestra]( by Will Odum

  • Fenestra by Will Odum is “a domestic technology embodied in the form of a wirelessly connected round mirror, photo frame, and candle that displays photos of departed loved ones. Fenestra’s interaction design, form, and materials draw inspriation from the butsudan—a Japanese Buddhist home altar that is a highly significant site for practices of memorializing departed loved ones.”
Hadas Arnon‘s [‘Digital Cemetery’](

Hadas Arnon‘s ‘Digital Cemetery’

  • Hadas Arnon‘s ‘Digital Cemetery’ - “The family and friends of a person who passed away can gather all the digital data they wish on one small memorial stick. The sticks are gathered in to a memorial archive or library; a neutral place to come and remember your beloved person, The scenario of use- By a quick computer search, you find the location of the requested memorial stick. The location is indicated by light, you take the stick to a separate memorialization room, there you can watch and listen to all the pictures, movies, songs or any other data. This way you mourn and remember your beloved when he is smiling in good and happy moments, it is a way to heal and cope with the loss in a positive point of view.”

New Dimensions in Testimony

  • New Dimensions in Testimony is “ is a collection of interactive biographies from USC Shoah Foundation that enable people to have conversations with pre-recorded video images of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses to genocide.”

Memorials for the Future

  • Memorials for the Future. The National Park Service (NPS), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and Van Alen Institute collaborated on Memorials for the Future, “an ideas competition to reimagine how we think about, feel, and experience memorials. Memorials for the Future calls for designers, artists, and social scientists to develop new ways to commemorate people and events that are more inclusive and flexible, and that enrich Washington’s landscape while responding to the limitations of traditional commemoration.” See also: the key findings from the project

Constellation Park - An Infrastructural Memorial)

Tools for Digital Legacy

  • Dead Man’s Switch is a solution that allows you to pre-emptively write an email to be sent in the event of your unexpected death. Similary, Safe Beyond provides “emotional life insurance” by allowing you to author future messages to your loved ones.

  • ETERNIME promises to make you “become virtually immortal”. It “collects your thoughts, stories and memories, curates them and creates an intelligent avatar that looks like you. This avatar will live forever and allow other people in the future to access your memories.”

  • “This is your digital monument.” - “When her best friend died, she rebuilt him using artificial intelligence”


David Eagleman’s SUM - Excerpt

In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together. You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet.