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Saving and Deleting, Remembering and Forgetting

Keywords: communication, death, digital witnessing, social-media, Internet, online memorials, techno-spiritual system, cybermourning, collective memory

produced by: Ana Catarina Rodrigues Macedo



“Saving and Deleting, Remembering and Forgetting” explores how technology is reframing our views of death and bereavement, in particular new forms of collective witnessing, remembering and forgetting through digital forms. This project was informed by topics such as new rituals of grief and collective memorialization within the digital realm, alongside how our manifestation of personal grief and fear of death are being altered through the Internet. As Sherry Turkle (2011) states "(we are) wired into existence through technology" - but what happens when our "offline existence" vanishes? And how do we witness these events in the digital world?

Drawing from a wide range of scholars, the project is divided into four different parts: Digital Witnessing, Collective Memory & Remembering, Dark & Light and Present & Future. For the author Jennifer Huberman, new forms of consciousness and avenues of connectivity are being established with online memorials as the Internet allows people to find new means to maintain relationships with the deceased, which feeds into the notion of the Internet as a “techno-spiritual system” (2017, p.92). However, how does our mourning and notion of death change when biologically dead people continue to live online? It also raises other questions related to our digital fingerprint for when we are no longer here. Although aware of the ephemeral nature of life, our relationship with technology involves a constant and often obsessive urge to keep track, record, retrieve, stock-pile, archive, backup and save (Garde-Hansen et al., 2009, p.5). The author Amanda Lagerkvist asks where are we when our traces are all over the Internet? Knowing that our virtual steps are recorded gives us a sense of powerlessness as we are not able to control where our traces are located, not only in our lives, but also in our afterlives. Lagerkvist’s research on the existential dimensions of digitalization, focusing specifically on digital memory cultures, death and the digital afterlife, tells us that when people share existential issues in regards with bereavement and trauma online, from digital memorials to rituals of lighting digital candles and virtual flowers, digital media becomes existential media (2017, p.97).

The artwork for this project is an interactive website which acts as a database with all the relevant research undertaken. Inspired by the biotechnologised works of Heather Dewey-Hagborg on mourning and Stefan Schäfer’s works on digital death and the post-mortem self, the webpage resembles a desktop area, which incites the notion of a digital mediated “personal space” part of the lives of many of us. There are four folders which correspond to the different parts of the research: 1. Digital Witnessing; 2. Collective Memory & Remembering; 3. Dark & Light and 4. Present & Future. The website is filled with other visual resources, such as images and video files which give the visitor more examples about how digital witnessing and cybermourning is being represented in popular culture. For the visual imagery, I experimented with images of old statues and busts and combined them with a more futuristic look, which reinforces the old and new, dead and alive.

This research project has enabled me to see the abrupt increase in the search of alternative ways to die and to maintain contact with the dead, from cryonics technology to online memorials. With this research project, I would like to open the space to think about the following: Who is going to inherit our digital possessions? Which technologies will we use to grief?

Link to the artwork website:

Annotated Bibliography:

Andén-Papadopoulos, K., (2014). Citizen camera-witnessing - Embodied political dissent in the age of ‘Mediated mass self-communication’. New Media & Society [online]. 16(5), 753-769. [Viewed 3 April 2020]. Available from: https://journals-sagepub

In this article, Kari Andén-Papadopoulos argues that the mobile camera phone introduces new performative rituals of witnessing due to its “wearable” nature. As a consequence, it links our body to a vast global nervous system, whereby it restructures the way we witness trauma – the author introduces the term “citizen-camera-witnessing”. The article highlights the increasing power of images and their circulation to shape the collective imaginary of global populations and structure relations of geopolitical power. Historically, Andén-Papadopoulos notes that the origin of the term “the crisis of witnessing” coincides with the rising of “media witnessing” in the wake of the Holocaust.

Lagerkvist, A. (2017) Existential Media: Toward a Theorization of Digital Thrownness. New Media & Society [online]. 19 (1), 96-110. [Viewed 10 April 2020] Available from:

The author Amanda Lagerkvist explores the existential dimensions of digitalization and automation focusing on death online, digital memory studies. Lagerkvist conducts research on the existential dimensions of digitalization, focusing specifically on digital memory cultures, death and the digital afterlife. She states that our sense of time, memory, space, selfhood, sociality, and death are implicated, at least, for networked populations of the Global North. In the text, the author explores how the concepts of both death and mourning change as people live online after their biological death. She draws her research from four emergent fields on inquiry: Death (digital afterlife), Time (the pace in which we ‘move’ by constantly keeping track and backing up our information on the web), Being There (presence and absence, the notion that our traces are all over the internet) and Being-In-And-With-The-World (it emphasises the idea of virtual mourning practices as a way to unite communities and support for one another).

Papailias, P., (2016). Witnessing in the age of the database: Viral memorials, affective publics, and the assemblage of mourning. Memory Studies [online]. 9(4), 437– 454. [Viewed 10 April 2020]. Available from:

In this article, Penelope Papailias argues that public memorialising has migrated online and that the Internet is being perceived as a way for the living to contact the dead. Consequently, the author notes that there is a critical cultural shift in the way people mourn as storage media and technologies mediate our relationship to the dead – from the archive (mechanical storage media) to the computer database (digital storage media). To explain her point of view, Papailias investigates the video memorial for a 2003 bus crash in Greece, the nation’s deadliest vehicle collision to date. By looking at YouTube as an affective network, the author explores the notion of cultural memory and social-media users as witnesses.


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Dewey-Hagborg, H., (2019). Spirit Molecule II [online]. Heather Dewey-Hagborg Portfolio. [Viewed 20 April 2020]. Available from:

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Huberman, J., (2017). Dearly Departed: Communicating with the Death in the Digital Age. Social Analysis [online], 61(3), 91-107. [Viewed 10 April 2020]. Available from:

Lagerkvist, A and Andersson, Y., (2017). The grand interruption: death online and mediated lifelines of shared vulnerability. Feminist Media Studies [online], 17(4), 550-564. [Viewed 10 April 2020]. Available from:

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Wood, D., (2020). Disrupting Death: Technology & The Future of Dying [PowerPoint presentation]. DSMNTL Ideas talk. 4 April 2020.