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In Theory: Should gravestone information go high-tech?

September 21, 2012

Gravestones offer the basic information about the deceased — name, date of birth, date of death and perhaps a Bible verse or poem. But a British company is now offering a way to bring memorials into the social-media age.

For about $580, Chester Pearce Associates, a funeral home in Dorset, England, will put a small plaque engraved with a quick-response matrix barcode on your gravestone. Anyone interested can “read” the code with a smartphone or tablet and call up a Web page with the person's biography, obituary, photos and even video, giving a richer look at the life of the deceased. Friends and family members can add their own tributes to the page.

Some funeral homes in America started a similar scheme last year. The idea behind the codes is simple. “It is about keeping the memory of someone alive,” says Stephen Nimmo, managing director Chester Pearce Associates. “This man or woman really did something — these are the people they knew, these are their family, this is where they went. You can learn a lot more about people than what you see on the stone.”

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One of the funeral home's first customers was Gill Tuttiett, whose husband, Timothy, died from heart failure. “Tim was quite outward-going and game for anything,” she said. “I think this is the way forward and Tim would have wanted that, and it's making a process that's hard possibly easier.”

The codes can be added to existing memorials, allowing someone to visit George Orwell's grave, for instance, and get access to details of his life, works and ideas. They can also be added to historical buildings.

Q: What's your take on this use of technology? Is it indeed the way forward? Or should the markings on the grave stone, and the minister's funeral comments to gathered mourners, suffice?

The way forward, eh? Maybe so, and I suppose here is yet another instance of modern technology enabling us to do more. But down deep, I really don't care. And I suspect that after some initial excitement about what can be done with this new technology, there will be a gradual ho-hum factor kicking in.

Simply because we can do something doesn't mean we'll continue to do that something. I am certainly not opposed on religious grounds, nor do I think the dead are being exploited.

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