While you don’t have a say in whether you’ll eventually die or not (sorry Peter Thiel), you do have a say in what happens to you after you pass. And since funerals and memorial customs are tuned to the societal and spiritual values of the moment, it’s very likely that the death rituals you’ll choose will be pretty different from the ones your great-grandparents wanted.
For example, as American cemeteries in the 1800s were built to look rural and park-like to reflect the Romantic period, the burial rituals of today and tomorrow are likely to reflect our own cultural mainstays: Technology, and the promise that technology can build a better future, even after you’re gone. Here are some of the ways that tech is revolutionizing the death process:
QR Code Gravestones
QR codes, the matrix barcodes that can be read by an imaging device like a camera on a smartphone, have permeated the funeral industries of Japan and China. First put on a tombstone in Japan in 2008, QR tombstones are essentially virtual memorials: When scanned, they can lead to a website with photos of the deceased and information about their life, transcending the limits of physical space that a traditional tombstone would force.
In China, they’ve become especially useful for a country with limited land space. In some Chinese grave sites operated by the government, the deceased remain in individual graves for seven years, then moved to mass graves complete with QR memorials. While QR tombstones haven’t become popular in the United States yet, they are slowly being found in other locations, from Alaska to Slovenia.
Sometimes called biocremation, other times known as aquamation, alkaline hydrolysis is a chemical process poised to replace flame-based cremations. Sold as a “gentle, eco-friendly alternative”, alkaline hydrolysis comes with a smaller environmental cost than traditional cremations — to burn a single body, notes the BBC, a cremator machine “generates enough heat to warm a home in winter for a week.”
This cremation involved putting a body in an alkaline hydrolysis machine for 90 minutes. It’s then heated to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit in a solution of potassium hydroxide and water. The temperature and solution creates a fast dissolving process, and in about four hours only a skeleton remains. As of now, alkaline hydrolysis is a legal form of cremation in 13 states — but likely will expand to more states soon.
In May, space burial company Elysium Space announced they want to offer people the opportunity to send their loved one’s ashes to space. For $2,490, it isn’t cheap to “remember a loved one throughout the night sky” — but with the average cost of a funeral and burial rounding out at $7,181, it’s not terrible either. SpaceX flights are the planned space-hearses and while the exact date hasn’t been confirmed, Elysium said the first SpaceX Falcon 9 flight carrying the ashes of the deceased is set to go up sometime before the end of 2017.