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A Bright Future for the High Tech Death Market

Death is on our minds, in part because the demographics are moving towards an aging population, and in part because dying is one really expensive process. In a $17 billion dollar a year business, memorializing and burial were among the sacred bastions untouched by technology. But the afterlife has begun.

 .RIP?

.RIP is  the new TLD (Top Level Domain name) up for approval before ICANN, the committee that doles out TLDs. Whether people scoop it up to memorialize the dead or complain about .RIP-offs remains to be seen, but the name is likely to be there for the taking sometime early next year and created with the idea of a memorial web domain.

DIY DEATH

In the age of on-line planning for everything, death can’t escape. Control freaks can spell out their wishes on FinalFling,  an online safety deposit box where you can lay out your personal plan and make your accomplishments in this life abundantly known. From  choosing music to recitations, the site provides a playlist guide for your big day.

COSTCO CASKETS

The death business has lots of costs that add up quickly. From coffins and urns to acknowledgement notes, from body preparation to hearse rentals, it’s traditionally not been an industry where price shopping is encouraged. Now, sites like eFuneral are offering a shopping list of funeral services along with a place to put out your competitive bid for funeral services. The site caters to funeral planners including families, hospice workers, and the funeral parlor industry itself. Like a dating service, consumers are able to submit requirements, specify a price range, and await a bid. Discount coupons for everything from flowers to coffins await. The service, like many similar online services, is free for consumers with a variety of pricing plans for businesses.

FuneralOne, another online planning service, suggests that 1/4 of all funerals will be planned online in the next 5 years. The site targets funeral homes, offering them services like online tributes, webcasting, social media, online memorial services and more, providing a technology infusion for burial services. Eventbywire offers parlors as well as individuals webcasting and online tributes. Both acknowledge that their businesses are rapidly growing.

Costco, as many of your might know, now offers a variety of caskets you can order online, though the pricing seems similar to most funeral parlors.

For activists looking for the latest information on funerals, there’s Funerals.org. Did you know that NY is one of the few states that does not let you serve as your own funeral director, and that some states outlaw retail sales of caskets?

OPEN FOR VISITORS

Not only has the funeral gone high tech, so has the aftercare. QR codes etched into headstones are available in England from QR-Memories, and from Philadelphia company Digital Legacys. Snap on the QR code and your smartphone is immediately transported to the loved ones online memorial.

The technology may even add a new dimension to cemetery destination travel.  In England, “a future of burials reliant on mobile video and projection” are being tested. The Future Cemetery Project they’re studying “uses an immersive, interactive, multi-media audience experience to engage heritage site cemetery visitors with the UK’s dynamic cultural past.”

We all know that death is in the future. Just over a month ago, we buried my father. In our moment of intense grief and pain, our family had to reckon with the after-death equivalent of shopping at Tiffanys. All told, burying Dad cost us about $15,000, no technology included.

The upside of death tech – price choice, more ways to memorialize, and more ongoing tributes. The downside? Just one more thing to have put on the to-do list. 

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Living in Digital Times Focuses on Technology for Life's Transitions