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Issue 17 Out Now

Honoring the Deceased: Has Technology and the Media Changed how we Mourn the Dead?


(Image downloaded from unsplash.com. Originally uploaded by Zinko Hein on March 11, 2021)


In a recent class at Haverford College, we discussed what role technology, the media, and wake work have in honoring the dead. For sure, there is a certain level of discomfort that surrounds the subject of death. Death is a sacred subject — a time where those who pass ascend to join an army of ancestors. In my Ghanaian culture, death is not the end of life but a new form of existence. Through death, a person assumes a different responsibility from living; the person becomes part of an army that protects those who still live. Since death is a journey to a higher duty, we must honor the soon-to-be ancestor (Akan traditional beliefs in Ghana).


As a Gen-Z, past technological advancements are not something I could boast of experience. However, I cannot deny the differences that the constant interference of technology has created in our lives. Technology has bridged virtual distances between people, but at what expense? Have you ever been to a funeral (or any event for that matter) where the audience directs most of their attention to their cell phones? Of course, technology has done plenty of things to better our lives, but it has also created confusion about where and how to direct one’s attention. How do we honor the dead at funerals and other events held for the deceased in this world of immense technological advancement? We had in-depth discussions about how technology-inspired wake work has excluded the dead from its domains in the class mentioned earlier.


Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake was a critical literary work that fueled the discussions about death in the class. The book offers some insights into how we as a community could honor the dead and include them in our activism. Sharpe helps us face the realities surrounding the documentation of death in the media. Of course, wake work creates attention on death, but it cripples that effort by overlooking ways that we have neglected why it is essential to develop awareness in the first place. In this modern world, we have reduced “Wake work” to how well a person can post on multiple platforms about an ongoing issue. For instance, it is easier to read about the death of someone on the internet than it is to read about why knowing about their death matters. There is an apparent competition on who gets to report on the death of people first. This competition has far too often pushed the dead to the back of the story because it “ democratizes dying, death and grief (Says et al., 2020).” Take, for instance, things like wake-keeping that people have to bid the dead farewell.


Growing up as a child in a West-African home, I observed and attended some wake-keeping. It was one way we kept the deceased company until we sent them to their eternal abode. Wake-keeping was a moment to recount and recollect the moments we had with the dead. I cannot say the same happens in a lot of communities these days. Even at wake-keeping events meant to create and maintain space for the dead, people concern themselves with updating their social media videos and pictures about how sad they are about the person’s death. Of course, putting updates on social media platforms does not always mean people ignore the event at hand.


A funeral setting in Koforidua, Ghana. (Image from ghanaweb.com)


People making these updates in the course of the event is problematic because it draws attention from the deceased person posting about them. It also means people do not observe or respect the sacredness of the space intended to accumulate shared memories of the dead and honor them as they ascend to become an ancestor. Besides stealing the attention from the dead, technology has created a false narrative on who cares about what. The media and technology have worked unanimously to portray death as far too predictable and familiar. Some people believe that the trending of hashtags and the attraction of the public’s attention help achieve justice on some deaths, which is undoubtedly true. But, as Sharpe points out, justice becomes an illusion when it has lost its meaning to the issues that bother people’s lives (17). To include the dead in wake work is to correct how death has become synonymous with the pursuit of justice. People could seek justice first by actualizing the value of people’s lives and ensuring that they honor the departure of people. Technology has influenced people to perceive death (including deaths from severe plagues like police brutality) as usual, which is why wake work must include questioning the mind that births the normalization of accessorizing death.

To conclude, it is essential to know why we honor the dead. The purpose of funerals, wake-keepings, and other rituals held for the deceased is not to provide what society wants to see. On the contrary, directing our attention to what motivates these events and practices helps us gear our passion for justice toward making space and sitting with the discomfiture and every other emotion that we feel with the dead. We must not only seem to mourn on the phone but take a step back to include mourning by staying present, especially in the presence of the deceased. We as people should start practicing technological and social etiquettes that urge us to be in the moment and share our beings with the community, including our dearly departed ones.

Works cited/Referenced.


Sharpe, C. E. (2016). In the wake: On blackness and being. Durham: Duke University Press.


2. Says, A., Support, A., & *, N. (2020, January 30). Technology and social media are Changing Death & GRIEVING. Retrieved June 06, 2021, from https://urnabios.com/technology-social-media-death-grieving/



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