Created: March 23rd, 2019
When people go to cemeteries today, they walk down rows of silent stone engraved with names, dates, and perhaps an identifier or two (mother, child, loving spouse). Cemeteries are established public spaces for respectfully recalling and remembering individuals, but this one-sided interaction, rememberer to rememberee, hasn't changed for centuries. With Me, Myself and I, we envision the cemetery of the future.
Public space for remembrance of an individual is reserved at birth rather than upon death. In this future cemetery, individual plots are built as miniature mausoleums that store annually collected impressions of an individual, physicalized as digital avatars. As an individual ages, the collection of impressions in their mausoleum grows. People can revisit their own past selves as well as the past selves of family members, friends, and even strangers--anybody you might visit in a cemetery.
Interactions with past selves are not without consequences. If an adult visits their 12-year-old self and tells them what happens in their future, it will affect how that 12-year-old version conceptualizes the world and reacts back to the visiting adult and all subsequent visitors. What happens if you tell a younger self you broke up with who they were in love with at the moment of impression-making? What happens if you revisit a favorite memory with this imprint and the way an event has been remembered differ between the avatar and current self? What happens if you tell a younger version a close family member died? What happens if you tell a younger version that you have given up on a long-held dream? What happens if somebody else tells a digital avatar version of you that you yourself have died?
Our future cemetery explores the ways a person is remembered by different people at different times, the ways a person evolves over time, and the ways memory can be subtly manipulated and alternate realities created.
Death doesn’t mean what it once did. Instead of marking finality and the end of one’s being, death is evolving to mean only that the physical body is around no more.
There are already people and companies dedicated to creating personality-accurate representations of our loved ones after death. Sending a text to the dead and expecting and receiving a response is a new reality. As AI capabilities, machine learning, and the amount of data we pour into technology, from our online personas to our digital accounts and communication logs, grow, so will the accuracy, intuition, engagement and intimacy made possible by these post-death human representations. In the next decade, we will see a continuation of people moving far and often. Meaningful relationships will be scattered across the globe and few people will live close to their relative’s final resting spots. With the complications and expense that comes with needing to travel for funerals and memorial events, and the lack of access to traditional collective memorial sites (i.e. cemeteries), there will be a demand for new ways to commemorate, remember and interact with the beloved dead.
Living On, a remembering booth, addresses these needs. We envision Living On as a start-up originating in New York City. Built off the docks that jut into the harbor, these booths take mourners from the busy, unfeeling and continually moving streets of New York City into an intentionally isolated environment where people can have a chance to pause and remember and speak with the loved ones they’ve lose. Creating an environment within the booth helps reset user mindsets, slow them down, and prepare them for meaningful experiences with those they have lost. Once a living-passed engagement experience is complete, users emerge into the city facing the water and New York City skyline, a gentle reintroduction that continues the flow from the opening and closing meditation periods.
Ultimately, my team is trying to do two things:
Companies like Eterninme and Replika are at the forefront of creating digitized representations of individuals after death that can still be interacted with. Simply feed in enough text logs and whatever other data, and their algorithm will spit out a chatbot that can be ‘talked to’ matching the personality and characteristics of the originating human. Individuals are getting into the game, creating their own bots with the text logs they have with a person using machine learning to construct an identity and conversation traits of a person. This digital reincarnation is happening now and relatively accessible.
Visually too, we have seen an increase in the number of people being reconstructed and made to ‘perform’ heedless of what the original living person the image comes from or their family would have wanted. Tupac and Amy Winehouse have been brought back from the dead, turned to holograms and sent on tour. Following their deaths, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and a few Star Wars characters were digitally reconstructed so their final movies could be completed. Each time this has happened, there have been major discussions about the ethical concerns and rights of the dead and their estates to their images, but it hasn’t stopped technologies being used for reconstruction purposes. As the living today build vast digital profiles of ourselves, nearly everybody has enough content online for these 3D renderings as well as vocal reconstruction.
For our prototype, we created a to scale model of the Living On booth. Displaying the meditation spaces capping each end of the experience as well as the main space with interactive interface table and full-length screens, this model clearly communicates the form and flow through the booth. The scale model was constructed from laser cut foamcore and hand-cut mat board. Because we were using the scale model for illustrating the different areas within the user flow, we keep the fidelity of it clean but simple, so that it would not overpower the purpose of it. We purposely made the outside white and inside black to illustrate how the building would have a similar contrast in materials between the exterior and interior. When designing the scale, we were thinking about masoluems that are found in cemetries and referencing those structures but with a modern form. The form was also inspired by Richard Serra sculptures. It was designed with curved walls to help guide the user through the space, as well as to allow the screens in the main room to surround the user, so it would be a more immersive experience. It was designed intentionally for the user to enter and exit through sepearte areas, so that the space would help empahsize the feeling of a journey because it would direct the user to move through the entire structure.
Model plans and construction
Below is a video of the lighting up prototype of the scale model (we used keynote to prototype this)
The interactive interface was made in Sketch and prototyped in Principle for the video. The interface was designed to be simple with limited selections for the user, only focused on selecting the person they want to talk to and the time frame of memories. Because the physical token was part of the interaction, we made sure to design the digital element to work smoothly with it. We took into consideration the animations and interactions that would occur on the interface when the token activates the table, as well as how we could use the visual design and animations as cues to inform the user without having to have written or spoken instructions during the experience. (For example, the animation of the picture of the selected person disappearing into the table as a signal that the user is calling the person, then the digital avatar would appear on the screens).