21.104 sign of the times, or of time?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 17 Jun 2007 10:47:19 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 104.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sun, 17 Jun 2007 10:42:44 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: sign of the times, or of time?

In "Making a living from the rapidly changing British way of death"
(The Guardian for Saturday, 16 June), Oliver Burkeman writes of new
things at the biggest-ever gathering of the British funeral industry.
"And the message it came to deliver was clear: reaping doesn't always
have to be grim" -- nor traditional:

>These days, the granite slab above your grave can feature a bust made
>from a 3D scan of your head, and the web address of a professionally
>designed online memorial site.

One might wish to enquire into the guarantees of stability and
longevity for the online service used to host the memorial site. Or
is there a more subtle message to be read here? Mircea Eliade
somewhere declared that certain ancient ways of burial provided a
stone body for the departed soul -- when it was believed that there
was an eternal soul who might be in need of a body to inhabit. But
now that "carpe diem" comes closer to the dominant belief (if belief
is the right word), perhaps the uncertainty of anything digital, no
matter how well backed up, stands for us more profoundly than we had
imagined. Indeed, the next sentence of the article from which I have
quoted expresses more or less the same implication organically:

>A company called Ecocoffins, part of the growing trend for green
>funerals using biodegradable caskets and woodland burial sites, will
>sell you the "signature coffin", made of ultra-strong reinforced
>cardboard, on which funeral guests can write a final message.

Here is indeed a topic in the cultural studies of the world in which
computing has emerged. But, then, before one makes too much of these
thoughts as a sign of the these times alone,

>...like the baseless fabric of this vision,
>The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
>The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
>Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
>And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
>Leave not a rack behind.


PS: Thanks to John Lavagnino for brightening this Sunday morning with
the Guardian's messageof what must surely come.

Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Sun Jun 17 2007 - 06:01:11 EDT

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