From the Charging Cradle to the Grave
Going into the ground with favorite items from our lives is not a new ritual. Ann Brownlee, curator in charge of the Mediterranean wing at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology states that the only way we can truly see into the lives of the unburied dead centuries later is by examining the company they kept in their caskets. She reports that the third floor of the Penn museum houses artifacts from ancient Greece that seem to have been created just for burial. Archaeologists have found small pseudo-coins between the teeth of the dead; and children's tombs in ancient Greece were filled with miniature vases, dolls and other toys.
If the bedfellows we keep in our eternal resting places are evidence to future generations of who we were in life, what will graves full of tech gadgets and toys communicate to archaeologists centuries in the future? According to associate curator of Historical Archaeology at the Penn museum, Robert Schuyler, he sees the things we bury as evidence of a shift in culture towards the secular. He is currently studying elements of the past 500 years, and he notes movement away from religious burials. He says that the modern gravestone is typically far more personalized than before and often has jokes or pictures of material possessions, such as cars engraved. As far as burial with mobile phones or video games, he says that of course certain religious sects such as Puritans and Quakers would not take technology with them, but that these items have turned up in the ground in increasing numbers in the past decade.
The reality is, once we die, we can't really control or know what is being buried with us; and inside casket jokes happen often. Obit speculates that because accepting the death of loved ones and truly letting go can be difficult, many left behind will bury something personal to carry on a conversation. An international luxury fair in Verona unveiled a particularly posh way for the deceased to stay in touch in February. A velvet-lined, touchscreen-cell-phone-
Funerals that honor an individual's love for technology, gadgets or other elements that would be considered the stuff of science fiction mere decades ago are becoming more commonplace, but are not necessarily new ideas. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry requested his remains be shot into space; when he died in 1991, his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry commissioned "memorial spaceflight" company Celestis to launch his remains as well as digitized tributes from fans into space for eternity. When she passed away in 2008, plans were made for both of them to be sent into their own deep space "Final Frontier" in 2010.
In a lower-profile case, a Star Trek and computer-themed geek funeral was held for a tech lover, whose ashes were encased in a SPARCstation computer. As his brother explained, it was "a cool place to spend eternity ... after we've left for that great data bank in the sky." Loved ones got to pay their respects through Post-It notes placed on the computer.
Brownlee of the Penn museum finds it "kind of terrifying" to think about how whatever we choose to put in our graves could be the contents of future museums and possibly all people know about us. Serious thoughts about the legacy we will leave behind if we decide we really have to get in that last text message may be reason enough to get selective about what we simply can't die without.