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in “death goes digital,” usa today looks at the impact technological advances have had on the way we grieve.  see how it has played out over the past few centuries in the timeline below:

  • 2000

    Social networking goes mainstream

    As social-media sites such as MySpace and Facebook became popular, people gravitated to them in times of grief. Mourners expressed their sorrow on their own profile pages, as well as on the profile pages of the deceased. Now, it’s common for friends and family to turn the departed’s Facebook page into an interactive memorial in which they post condolences, photos and even speak directly to the dead with such comments as, “I miss you,” “Thinking of you,” and “Happy birthday in heaven.” Source: Pew Research Center

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  • Mid- to late 1990s

    Internet use swells

    Those on “the Net” convened in chat rooms to talk about their distress at the deaths of notable people such as Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Tech-savvy Web users built online memorial pages for deceased loved ones. Entrepreneurs launched businesses that charged a fee for such services. In 1998, the online obituary publishing service made its debut. Its database currently has more than 10 million obituaries. Sources: USA TODAY archives; BBC; Associated Press

  • 1950s and 1960s

    TVs become living room fixtures

    In November 1963, Americans gathered around their televisions to watch the funeral service and procession for President John F. Kennedy. Since then, funeral Masses, memorial services and burials of prominent people such as Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana and Pope John Paul II have been broadcast to huge audiences. The recent funeral for singer Whitney Houston was watched by millions of people on several networks, including CNN, E Entertainment Television and BET. Sources: NBC; The Nielsen Company

  • 1800s

    Railways expand across America

    Lengthening railways brought about a new way to express grief: the funeral train. In April 1865, a train carrying President Abraham Lincoln from Washington to Springfield, Ill., made stops at cities where the coffin was removed from the train and taken to public buildings for viewing. Mourners lined the sides of the tracks on the 1,700-mile route to honor the assassinated president. A century later – June 1968 – mourners gathered at railroad tracks to honor assassinated presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. His body was transported by train to Washington from New York. Source:

  • Early 1800s

    Dawn of modern photography

    Advances in photography helped fuel the custom of taking memorial portraits of the recently deceased. These formal death portraits showed the departed in various settings such as resting in bed, propped up next to family or lying in a casket. Mourning photography was often used to remember young children who had died. Frequently, larger portraits were displayed in homes, and smaller ones were sent to those who couldn’t attend the funeral. Before 1900, most of these images were taken by professionals. From 1900 on, more amateurs took such photos, mourning photography collector Anthony Vizzari says. Source:

  • 1700s and 1800s

    News spreads through publications

    Death notices and longer obituaries notified the community not only of an individual’s death, but also of how he or she had lived. These small biographies first appeared in magazines in the 1700s, then expanded to newspapers, The Obituary as Collective Memory author Bridget Fowler says. Centuries after they first began to appear, obituaries are still clipped and saved by family and friends of the deceased. Source: “Writes of Passage: A Comparative Study of Newspaper Obituary Practice in Australia, Britain and the United States,” by Nigel Starck


death goes digital

11/05/12 , , , , ,

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