From diamonds to rockets, mourning the dead has gotten high-tech

In the 21st century, people have a widening range of options for preserving loved ones’ ashes.

Throughout history, people have devised elaborate ways to memorialize the dead: the pyramids of Egypt, Europe’s Gothic mausoleums, the Taj Mahal in India. What some mourners consider meaningful, others would call macabre. In 19th-century Europe and America, “death photography” produced portraits of the departed in lifelike poses; in the Tibetan Buddhist rite known as sky burial or bya gtor (alms for the birds), earthly remains are set out to feed vultures.

Notions about honoring the dead are shaped by many factors—culture, tradition, geography, religion. But the notion is one thing, and the execution is another. In every era, it’s the available technology that determines our range of memorial options.

The intersections of death and technology have long been busy crossroads. In these early years of the 21st century, they’re getting really interesting. Because I write about science and technology for a living, I’ve lingered at these intersections, observing the innovations: digital memorials on social media, eco-friendly green burial options, even interactive tombstones.

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