Close your eyes and imagine a cemetery. The first thing that comes to mind is probably the headstones. What about technology — do you see it anywhere? Probably not. Death has a particular aura, and technology isn’t usually part of that.
I recently took a fascinating webinar about “Symbolism in Local Cemeteries.” Headstones often have symbols on them, and some are relatively common — crosses, books, and flowers — for example. (Most of the other symbols we discussed I hadn’t seen before, and I’m interested in learning more!) But what about symbols that use technology? We briefly discussed the possibility of using QR Codes — a different type of symbol. There wasn’t enough time to go through any specific examples or ways to use them, but it got me thinking.
Technology and QR Codes
Will technology ever be evident in cemeteries? I think it will. QR Codes, or “Quick Response Codes,” are a type of barcode that you scan with your smartphone. These could be added at the cemetery or on individual headstones. As much as I generally detest technology, I think it’s a good idea. And, it’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. One of the local cemeteries in town is working on a walking tour that you would access from a QR Code.
— Entrance sign —
A cemetery might add a QR Code to their entrance sign, for example. Scan the code with your smartphone, and you have a map of the cemetery for a walking tour. Search for a topic and review the results — early settler, veteran, religious, famous, oldest, newest — whatever you want to see. Looking for a specific grave? Type in the name, choose it from the list and let the phone’s GPS show you how to get there. Is it a historic cemetery? Get the cemetery’s history in the palm of your hand.
— Headstones —
Or what if there was a QR Code on the headstone? While at someone’s gravesite, read a biography, personal stories, or even their obituary. Perhaps you’re more interested in visuals — view a photo album or watch a video they recorded while still alive. Into genealogy? Study their family tree, and find other family members buried nearby. Have something to say? You could then leave comments or add information to help tell their story; sign the guestbook, or leave private notes. Maybe the whole system is linked to Find-A-Grave, Ancestry.com, or even social media — if it was possible to do it tastefully.
— Resources, records, reminders, & reunions —
The QR Codes might also help with forensics, medical records, or even census records. What about local history or civic matters? Maybe it shows statistics as well — 40% of the people buried here were of Irish descent. Or, it could let you know when the flowers you left have wilted and send you a reminder to visit on the anniversary. Maybe it has a way for your relatives to participate in a Zoom Meeting or FaceTime event, so you can bring everyone together and remember a loved one.
Visiting a cemetery could be an interactive experience, even an immersive one. It doesn’t need to be macabre, awkward, or a painful event with tear-stained eyes. Cemeteries genuinely could be a way to connect with someone and bring their story back to life.
Rest in Peace
Of course, there is the potential argument of letting ones “Rest in Peace.” Perhaps the departed don’t want us visiting for too long or using technology to pry into their lives. Maybe cemeteries should be kept as a quiet place for visitation and reflection instead of technology hubs. Perhaps there is a reason why these places are so steeped in hushed traditions. The whole idea might be in poor taste or violate privacy concerns. And, do we really need technology present in every aspect of our lives?
Yet, one of my favorite local writers, Tui Snider, believes that “historic cemeteries are open-air museums.” I think she’s onto something there, and not just about historical ones. All cemeteries could be ways to learn from the past. And the way to do it may be through the smartphone in your pocket. I think it’s possible to integrate technology in a tasteful, respectful, helpful, educational, and even fun way. Let’s take the grim finality out of death and look at it from another perspective. Wouldn’t you want your loved ones to visit your grave and keep your memory alive?
Symbols of the Future
The next time you visit a cemetery, look for symbols on the headstones. And don’t be surprised if one of the symbols is a QR Code waiting for your smartphone to scan it. It just might be the future and a way to bring cemeteries into the 21st century.
Blog post by Jason S. Sullivan, 07-16-21