In a digital society, shall we be the authors of our own experience, not only during our lifetime but also after we die? We ask this question because dying and bereavement have become even harder, and much less private, in the digital age. New big data-driven digital industries and technologies are on the rise, with promises of interactive 3D avatars and storage of digital memories of the deceased, so they can continue to exist online as the "living dead"in a digital afterlife. Famous rock and roll icons like Roy Orbison, Frank Zappa, Ronnie James Dio, and Amy Winehouse have famously been turned into holograms that can once again give "live"performances on the touring circuit, often pulling in large audiences. Death studies, dying, and grief have become virtual in the 21st century. We live in truly unprecedented times for human-computer interactions. Thanatology is the scientific study of death, dying, loss, and grief. In contrast to the biological study of biological aging (cellular senescence) and programmed cell death (apoptosis), thanatology employs multiple professional lenses, medical, psychological, physical, spiritual, ethical, descriptive, and normative. In 1997, Carla Sofka introduced the term thanatechnology as "technological mechanisms such as interactive videodiscs and computer programs that are used to access information or aid in learning about thanatology topics."Onward to 2021, the advent of social media, the Internet of Things, and sensors that digitize and archive nearly every human movement and experience are taking thanatechnology, and by extension, digital transformation, to new heights. For example, what happens to digital remains of persons once they cease to exist physically? This article offers a critical study and snapshot of this nascent field, and the "un-disciplinary"sociotechnical issues digital thanatechnologies raise in relation to big data. We also discuss how best to critically govern this new frontier in systems science and the digital society. We suggest that new policy narratives such as (1) the right to nonparticipation in relation to information and communication technologies and (2) the planetary public goods deserve further attention to democratize thanatechnology and big data. To the extent that systems science often depends on data from online platforms, for example, in times of pandemics and ecological crises, "critical thanatechnology studies,"introduced in this article, is a timely and essential field of scholarship with broad importance for systems science and planetary health.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Medicine
- Molecular Biology