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Narrating the Digital: The Evolving Memento Mori

Part of the Human–Computer Interaction Series book series (HCIS)


This chapter builds on concepts of embodiment and considers our relationship to our bodies and environment(s) through the construct of ‘posthumanism.’ By commenting on the relationship between death and the body we consider how our digital remains, both literal and affectual, may take the role of legacy continuing on and engaging, in some essence, with the living. This will include a central discussion on how concepts of Cartesian Dualism and Transhumanism have led to a futile search for immortality, as developed by modern understandings of the writings of Rene Descartes. This idea of aiming for literal immortality verses engaging with questions of mortality and trying to understand the relevance of what is left behind to our lives is developed through a discussion of two artists approach to technically informed body modification and how this ‘development’ of the bodies both dead and alive further informs the topic of Posthumanism. This leads on to the consideration of Tony Walters (1996) work on a New Model of Grief within which he discusses the importance within the bereavement process of constructing a durable biography. This idea has been developed through the psychological concept of continuing bonds, a topic that has been vastly altered by the new digital landscape becoming the norm rather than the exception. This chapter also seeks to reflect on how theories becoming prevalent within the Death Studies arena may provide a new framework for the developing field of End of Life research within Human Computer Interaction.


  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Dead Body
  • Final Disposition
  • Cartesian Dualism
  • Death Study

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-01631-3_5
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  1. 1.

    Use of the word abstraction here refers to the reduction of the Internet to a virtual technology distanced from both the physical objects which house it (i.e. computers, mobiles, modems) and the people that use it (Weizenbaum 1976).

  2. 2.

    Although it may be debated whether the memory of that person still has a sense of agency upon the bereaved living.

  3. 3.

    The literature that forms the grounding for this preoccupation with internalized grief is considered in greater depth within Walters’ paper. Walter scopes out this field of bereavement literature including Freud’s article on Mourning and Melancholia (1913), Lindemann’s work three decades later on Symptomatology and Management of Acute Grief (1944), Bowlby’s seminal paper on The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds (1979), Parkes’s (1986) work on Bereavement: studies of grief in adult life and Raphael’s research into the The Anatomy of Bereavement: a handbook for the caring professions (1984).

  4. 4.

    From 2010–2012 the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), the premier international conference on human-computer interaction, has hosted a workshop on Technology Design at the End of Life. It is also worth noting that for the past 2 years CDAS (the Centre for Death and Society) has hosted a conference on Death and Dying in a Digital Age, which has acted as a platform for promoting interdisciplinary research, particularly linking the death studies community to the human-computer interaction community working in this area.

  5. 5.

    For further information on how abstraction and dualism affected the First Wave of Cybernetics please see (Hayles 1999, pp. 50–112).


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Correspondence to Stacey Pitsillides .

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© 2013 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

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Pitsillides, S., Jefferies, J. (2013). Narrating the Digital: The Evolving Memento Mori. In: Maciel, C., Pereira, V. (eds) Digital Legacy and Interaction. Human–Computer Interaction Series. Springer, Cham.

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