Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Virtual Dark Tourism

As some of my classmates have already mentioned in their blogs, a few weeks ago we spent part of a public history class discussing the idea of dark tourism and the way in which history is often the basis for it. Yesterday, an aspect of dark tourism that I had not previously even considered was brought to my attention. A digital aspect of dark tourism is already flourishing. I'm not merely talking about death notices available online, which though a valuable resource are not something I would consider dark tourism, I'm talking about virtual graveyards.

When I first heard of this concept I was more than a bit astonished, it never occurred to me that graveyards would be something that could be transferred into the digital world. However they existing in surprising abundance. One of the most prominent examples is the Virtual Graveyard. This site allows you to search a variety of graveyards to find whatever particular tombstone you are looking for, pick the weather conditions you wish to view the grave in, then you are 'walked' to the grave and given the option of leaving candles or other pieces of remembrance at the grave. Likewise, virtual memorials can easily be setup my loved ones and tailored to the particular religion and burial preferences of the family. After getting over the initial shock factor of the whole idea of an online graveyard the thought behind the virtual graveyard is kind of neat. It allows mourners and those just generally interested in tombstones (for historical reasons or otherwise) to pay their respects from a distance. This can be a valuable tool for someone who wants to honour a deceased friend but lives to far away to physically do so.

I am still kind of debating if digital graveyards fit into the realm of dark tourism or not. Even if they do not fit every aspect of what dark tourism is typically regarded as, they definitely do invoke an emotional response and after being curious enough to examine various grave sites I can attest to the curiosity that they inspire. Similarly, like most physical dark tourism sites there are subtle peripheral tourist aspects in the digital graveyards. In most cases visitors and mourners can purchase virtual flowers and candles to place at graves. Regardless of if digital graveyards actually fit the dark tourism mold or not, they do highlight the increasing movement toward digital memorials, digital communities and the digitization of everyday life.

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