Website: OBit Decay
1. Find a random online obituary (I used Legacy.com and the random number generator on my calculator to first select the state, then the newspaper, and finally an obituary).
2. Convert the text of the obituary from ASCII to binary (using, for example, an online conversion tool).
3. Scramble the resulting 1s and 0s with the bits from obituaries used on previous days (I used an online word scrambler).
"The digital separates everything into discrete segments by imposing a universal code that allows anything to be connected to anything else -- topology -- but prevents anything from ever being different. ... These signs are digital, repeatable bits; death is not. Niall Lucy: 'Death is always absolutely singular.' Signs can always be exchanged for other signs. Death is something else. Jacques Derrida: 'Dying can never be taken, borrowed, transferred, delivered, promised or transmitted.' It can never be incorporated into topology, which is nothing but lines upon lines along which to borrow, transfer, deliver, promise, transmit, etc., etc. Death is the last line, the last threshold for topological space. Dying is analog, a slippage toward nothingness, a legal and moral gray zone."
-- McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory
As Carmen Cheung points out in her article Dying in a digital age, "digital media has not only changed the way we live - but it has also impacted the way we'll be remembered when we die." Cheung's article focuses more on the emergence of multimedia obituaries rather than the more traditional textual ones, citing the video obituary of humorist Art Buchwald in which Buchwald himself sits before a camera in anticipation of his death and begins by saying, "Hi. I'm Art Buchwald, and I just died." Yet this form of obituary is still in its early stages, and the text obituary is far from dead (excuse the pun). With the advent of the internet, obituaries are no longer confined to print, but are now flourishing on newspaper websites and even inhabit sites and search engines of their own, such as 4obituaries.com, HeavenlyDoor.com, and Legacy.com. These online obituary databases are effective ways of merging the commercial facets of death, comprised of businesses such as florists, funeral homes, and estate lawyers, with the preservation of the memories of loved ones.
Yet for me there is something slightly off-putting about this proliferation of the business of death within the realm of the digital. As Wark (quoted above) observes, death and the digital are two fairly incompatible entities. When placed online, obituaries meant to signify the death of a unique, irreplaceable individual become at the most basic level 1s and 0s, no different than the bits that comprise other obituaries and internet texts. These death notices can be seen by anyone, sent to anyone, as is typical of all information on the internet across what Wark identifies as topological space. Yet this flow of information comes at the expense of uniqueness and individuality (what Walter Benjamin might call aura), and ultimately death itself can never be shared and transmitted as these obituaries can. I find that the permanence of death and the transience of commercial websites do not mix well, and thus I used this project as an opportunity to explore an alternative way of signifying death in a digital world.
My website is an attempt to make the obituaries of people who have passed away better reflect the experience of death while remaining within the digital realm of the internet. It frees these obituaries from the chaotic and commercial environment of sites such as Legacy.com while at the same time converting them into a form that more closely mirrors the unpredictability and incomprehensibility of death itself. Visual patterns may emerge within the image of these bits, but they are unique to the individual who views them. The bits have been scrambled to such a degree that they are unreadable in the more traditional sense, yet the overarching concept - death - remains.