Oh No They Did Not.

Yanko Designs presents the socially networked tombstone

Oh yes they did. Technology has just broached a brand new frontier – the one that belongs to the dead. Yanko Designs recently presented a prototype for a socially-networked tombstone called e-tomb. Yes, it’s quite brilliant. Yes, it makes total sense in the context of the continuing transfer of human intellect to cyberspace. And yes, it’s creepy.

But wow.

This is probably perfect for the socially obsessed, because one gets the opportunity to live on in a pretty tangible way. With a little advance warning of your impending doom, you can even create some communication that will set the stage for the right post-life conversations and interactions. “Hi! Bob here. I guess it’s pretty apparent I’ve taken the big dirt nap, but I’m super excited that you care enough to be here. Let everyone know I’m doing fine, and that flying while playing a harp is harder than it looks.” What? The dead can’t have a sense of humor?

Here’s the dealio.

You get an actual tombstone that’s Bluetooth enabled and powered by solar panels. Topping the stone is a really boss information processing terminal that can store all kinds of info like blogs, Facebook and even photos and videos. Different levels of access can be set up for relatives and passersby, creating the potential for some pretty lively interaction with the memory of the deceased (sorry, couldn’t resist). The dead could literally reach out from the grave – technologically speaking, that is. By the way, the Bluetooth transmitter is hidden behind a cross inset into the tombstone, which is either a nice touch or a one-way ticket to eternal torment. Not sure which.

Yanko Designs

Now for the rampant moral and ethical questions.

Hmm. On the one hand, it seems somehow sacrilegious to Bluetooth a sacred resting spot. On the other hand, the whole grave-tombstone-burial thing is the invention of humankind, so what’s one more invention? I have to admit, this lends a whole new twist to the idea of spending time with loved ones who have passed on. As a visitor, you just pull out your smart phone and browse the memories you had – or maybe never had, but are interested in. You’ll be able to commune not only with the dearly departed, but also with other people who had feelings for the dearly departed (I sense there could be problems for the cheating types here). In a hundred years, fifth grade students might even stop by to gather information for a book report. And without a doubt, this could create a whole new social sphere. I’m not kidding. There could easily be an ongoing continuum of conversation within cemeteries, and that buzz would most surely eventually be elevated to the online space.

So is e-tomb a right thing to do? Not sure. But we all know that once you cross the line, there’s no going back. The grieving process is a tricky thing, and if you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you know that it’s never really complete. The pain lessens with time, but you always miss the person who was a part of your life. I’ve heard that funerals are for the living, not the dead, and this is a pretty logical extension of that idea.

Now consider this

It feels like technology is helping humankind to move inexorably toward a Borg-like state of collective consciousness, where we’ll strive to capture the entire life experiences of human beings and store them in a cloud somewhere. The knowledge accumulated in a lifetime is massive, and to be able to leverage even a tiny fraction of the knowledge of a million lifetimes would create untold potential. According to MartinGover.com, human knowledge has been doubling in an increasingly shorter time frame anyway – largely because of the advent of the Internet and the increasing propensity for knowledge-sharing. In 2004, knowledge was doubling every 18 months. IBM predicts that within the next couple of years, knowledge will double every 11 hours.

Of course, the slope is very slippery. It isn’t a far stretch from collecting the memories and knowledge of humans to the creation of algorithms that will accurately predict and execute the continuing behavior of those same people. People who are deceased could easily become continuing beings, manifested as “decision-engines” who never tire and are always available to continue to contribute to humankind’s evolution and advancement. I’m willing to bet that we’d rush to “perpetualize” the great minds of science and art. But what of the people who loved them when they were real? It’s a complex argument reminiscent of the stem cell debate, but it seems that no legislation will ever be able to stave off the march of human evolution. Simply put, what can be will be.

L/L wants to know what you think. Is the e-tomb a wonderful new addition to life or the embodiment of evil? Just as importantly, will you be able to surf e-bay while at a cemetery?

Here are some pertinent links you should check out.

Yanko Designs and the e-tomb


Super geeky-techy data stuff: MartinGover.com. Nobody should be this smart.



  1. April says:

    Ooooh, I want one…. er, no, I don’t. Wait- yes. On second thought…

  2. Pink Friday says:

    Interesting , how would I apply this?

    • admin says:

      Lol – If you’re interested in obtaining an e-tomb, I think the whole thing is still in prototype land. Yanko Designs seems to be offering this up to gauge interest, but I have no idea how quickly they’re moving to production. Check the link in the article – there’s quite a bit of discussion about this on their blog. With regard to maybe taking a place on the forefront of this kind of movement, it would seem to be a wide open frontier. The way we’ve memorialized our departed friends and loved ones hasn’t changed in a couple of thousand years, so it’s probably due. I’m not sure if there’s any kind of social network devoted to the departed, but it would be an interesting development. By the way, I once heard (and I can’t prove this) that there are more people currently alive in the world than have ever died!

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