We want to share a story about “digitally connected cemeteries” that let visitors scan tombstones with their mobile devices to learn more about the people who are buried there.
The story follows Lorie Miller as she pays a visit to her grandparents’ final resting place. She’s not there to place flowers on their grave; she’s there to move her grandparents’ headstone into the digital age.
Miller affixes a two-inch brass square to their headstone that is a “QR” digital bar code, which can be scanned with smartphones.
Miller hopes the trend will catch on, as she and her husband own a Philadelphia-based QR tagging business called Digital Legacys, which takes visitors who scan a tagged grave to a personalized web page to learn more about a deceased person’s life. “People can upload photos of their loved one on a site we design for them. They can upload videos, a biography, backgrounds and music. It’s a great technology,” said Miller.
First invented in the 1950s for the Japanese auto industry, “QR codes” are seemingly everywhere in the modern world. Look around and you will see small QR codes (they look like patterned squares) on everything from coffee cups to print ads, from wedding invitations to billboards.
Smartphones have been able to read QR codes since 2010, making them popular tools in advertising for driving consumers to brand websites.
It’s no surprise they’re now appearing on headstones when you consider the growing number of people that are using the Internet as a mourning space. With QR tech in cemeteries, people can now visit a grave and learn more about their relatives than just the date of their birth and death.
QR coded tombstones are not just stand-alone technology – they are also part of a larger trend of “smart cemeteries” that are fully connected digital spaces.
With QR technology attached to every tombstone in a cemetery, visitors know the exact coordinates of each burial plot. One smart cemetery is La Paz, a Jewish cemetery in Uruguay that has QR codes on every headstone. The curious can even view residents of La Paz cemetery remotely from their website.
While cemeteries have always been public spaces, QR coded graves allow strangers access to more information about the deceased than ever before, which is raising privacy issues. To answer these concerns, QR code companies like Digital Legacys guarantee their users will have privacy if they want it. Much like setting your social media page to “public” or “private,” people have the option to grant strangers access to a headstone while others can make them available just to family members.
No one knows what will happen to these gravestones if new technology renders QR codes obsolete. The plan is in 100 years, people will be still able to scan QR codes with their devices to learn more about people buried in a cemetery but history offers lessons about what may happen if the QR code disappears as a useful technology. Smart headstones may simply live on as material relics like The Free Mason, Puritan, or Victorian symbols on early American headstones, which have survived for centuries but are now virtually indecipherable.
In another century, it is possible curious graveyard visitors may ponder what they are, who put them there and what they were thinking when they did.