23 August 2008

Italian virtual cemetery judged too cold

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Turin cemetery
More Italian news on how communications technologies are penetrating people’s daily lives, and sometimes create frictions:

The Italian newspaper La Stampa reports on plans for a virtual cemetery in Turin to commemorate those cremated, apparently developed without public consultation (my condensed translation):

The project is not yet implemented, but is already subject of debate. The high-tech cemetery is not liked. Virtual tombstones and monitors with the names of the deceased seem to be in contradiction with the wishes of those who chose for cremation and not leave their traces in the earth. So, technology and prayer still seem incompatible concepts.

The Turin municipality plans to provide family members with a place where they can gather to commemorate the deceased. As of 1 November, there will be three displays at the entrance of Turin’s main cemetery. Two of them contain the names of the over 4000 deceased, those who do not even have a small box that contains the urn with the ashes. The third monitor is reserved to the virtual tombstones: each visitor can access, with a personal code, the page with a photo of their dear one, their date of birth and death, and an epigraph. A tombstone in other words. Or better, an image of a tombstone.

The idea made some people smile, others however cringed at the thought.

Ines Poletto approaches one of the four (stone) cenotaphs, makes the sign of the cross, and says: “Who has chosen to be in here doesn’t want a photo or an epigraph. It may be difficult to accept for those who remain behind, but we need to respect the wishes of those who are no longer with us.” Carla Costa, 52, whose father also preferred the cremation, is of the same idea: “Those who made this decision did not want visibility. Why put their name and photo on a screen? It is not right to put them in a box now, even though it is a virtual one.”

Margherita Bertin reacts ironically: “I understand the importance of the computer, try to stay up-to-date, and know how to send emails, but this thing about the dead on the internet…” The use of new technologies in this context doesn’t even convince the younger generation. Claudia Cicirelli, 28, thinks the idea of the municipality is “crazy”, because “connecting the memory of the deceased with technology cancels the emotional side of the loss.” A clear no also from Laura Garolla: “This is buffoonery. They are now also making a business out of the dead. If I want to see a photo of my father, I can always do so in a family photo album. I don’t like the idea of seeing his photo on a screen at the cemetery.”

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