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Digital Memories

We build memories that are registered by brains and devices, in life. We leave physical traces, and more and more, digital traces. What may be the impact of technology in the way we go through grieving

In 2004, the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, started, a masterpiece of the partners Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman who won the Oscar for best original screenplay and became one of my favorite movies. In science fiction novel, Joel and Clementine, played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are recently separated and decided to undergo a technological procedure to erase from their mind the memories of what they lived together in an attempt to overcome the disruption and pain caused by the end of the relationship. There, the technology was at the service of forgetting. Although – not wanting to give a spoiler even because it is such an old film – it becomes clear in the course of the plot as our mind has its own tricks to fight for important memories.

Today, when someone we love dies, we have the technology to remember. Not that it is needed for this. As we always say here, we will never forget who we really love. Because it is not possible. Because it is hardly desired. However, the fact that a more digital life begins to cause changes in how we go through grieving – and it seems that we are only at the beginning of this story.

In life, we build memories that are recorded by brains and devices. We leave physical traces (written, clothes, objects, etc.) and, increasingly, fingerprints (images, videos and texts in different media). Some people are more active in producing their own content and the construction of their own memories. But even shy-digital are caught by other cameras, commented by other people’s posts, exchange WhatsApp messages daily and also leave their digital assets. We print marks on our networks and also the networks of those who relate to us.

If this life we lead extends the record of memories, then it also widens access to the past (and who we were) after our death. The visitation to the memory of our beloved ones becomes easier: in a few clicks, we can recall the image, voice, conversations, gestures videos of those who have died. And we can live the nostalgia (and sadness) in group, sharing theses memories available in digital media with friends.

Recently, some friends asked me to share an experience they lived and what made them come to this realization: we continue ‘in a relationship’ with those who were on social networks. Photos and videos of a mutual friend of the group, for example, who died less than two years, constantly returns to timelines from a simple like. And though never forgotten, that friend is back on the scene and turns the subject at the next lunch of his faithful friends.

Amanda Thomas, dear friend and co-director of this project, always reminds us that she continues to go into her father’s Facebook page, who died in 2014, to kill the homesickness and she even she even sent him ‘Inbox’ messages in the most difficult days. And by showing recent articles on the subject, it seems that this kind of behavior is becoming more common – so much that Facebook offers the option of turning the page who died in a memorial, easing this way, the digital absence (Facebook step by step here).

A deliberate action to access this memory box is not always accurate. Often you are surprised by memories automatically generated by the platform – the ‘memory of Facebook’ – or by the positive action from a friend who decided to share their longing. The sudden visit of such memories can be received as a welcome surprise and/or generate an unexpected sadness. But didn’t the same happen in the offline world? I have rejoiced much to find a note from my mother lost in the pages of a book. But I’ve cried in public once only to feel the perfume she used to ware.

unsplash: hannah wei

The digital future

Less than a month, the news of a Russian start-up of artificial intelligence that will offer a chatbot (a human simulator) for grievers made news worldwide (in English and Portuguese). The ability to simulate the behavior of someone who has died, from his fingerprints, and maintain online postmortem interaction, was anticipated by the episode “Be Right Back” series “Black Mirror” / Netflix in 2013.

It is clear that such changes excite and also generate fear.

Personally, today I find strange and uncomfortable the possibility of maintaining a dialogue that simulates the real from the use of technology. I think the dialogue that I naturally establish in my mind is enough to those who are still alive inside me. I see more positively the physical and digital memorials that have been created by the world as the “9/11 Memorial” and the honor to the innovation company IDEO to one of its founders, Bill Moggridge.

But I know I can be being conservative and reactive, so I prefer to keep myself alert and nonjudgmental. The geriatrician Ana Claudia Quintana Arantes said, in the recently released “Death Is A Day Worth Living” (Casa da Palavra publisher), that “the most sensitive task of the grieving period is to restore the connection to the person who died through the shared experience with her. ” Each will draw a very individual way in building this new relationship. I can only hope that technology brings us more happiness, always.


In 2015, UOL published a special TAB about death and grieving that drew an overview of how we treat the issues and the changes brought about by digital platforms. It is worth checking: