Digital Attachments to Life After Death: Grieving in the Age of Technology

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As technology continues to expand, so does the presence of digitization in society. With the ease and accessibility of digitization, individuals of Western society have begun to assume a virtual presence. The countless hours of curating online profiles have created digital shadows of real lives. If digital profiles become embedded with the “spirits” and memories of their users, what happens to their virtual existence after death? America’s cremation movement demonstrates society’s complex perception of life and death. As the scattering of ashes displaces a person, what becomes of the role of the body? What becomes the role of a virtual presence? Researchers have observed how the bereaved have used technology, but there is limited study of the implications of these digital tools. This thesis examines the role of technology on the ways in which society grieves. Case studies are analyzed to identify the patterns and characteristics of grieving in the age of technology. These first hand accounts from the bereaved support the thesis that digital profiles allow the bereaved to maintain a connection to the departed, and social networks help them realize the impact the deceased had on others. However, some of the bereaved believe that when the person is gone, so too should their profile fade. If digital profiles prolong the relationship between the deceased and the bereaved, is the ability to visit the deceased online helpful to the bereaved? Through meta-analysis of psychology studies, the innate attachment style of the bereaved is the essential marker for the value of the digital presence of the deceased. By Freudian logic, social media profiles would inhibit successful mourning as they prolong detachment. However, according to Bowlby and the continuing bonds theory, digital profiles can be used as helpful tools to reconstruct a relationship with the deceased.


Type of resource text
Date created June 2017


Author Borge, Olivia
Primary advisor Kieschnick, John
Advisor Sato, Kyoko
Degree granting institution Stanford University, Department of Science, Technology, and Society


Subject Science Technology and Society
Subject Stanford University
Subject grief
Subject bereavement
Subject digital media
Subject profile
Subject chatbots
Subject death
Subject evolution of mourning
Subject cremation
Subject virtual afterlife
Subject grief work
Subject continuing bonds
Genre Thesis

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User agrees that, where applicable, content will not be used to identify or to otherwise infringe the privacy or confidentiality rights of individuals. Content distributed via the Stanford Digital Repository may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (CC BY).

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Preferred Citation
Borge, Olivia. (2017). Digital Attachments to Life After Death: Grieving in the Age of Technology. Unpublished Honors Thesis. Stanford University, Stanford CA.


Stanford University, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Honors Theses

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