Before you bemoan what might seem like technology’s inelegant invasion of an old tradition, hear us out: Digital gravestones might be worth pursuing. Digital — or interactive — gravestones (the term is being used interchangeably) make it sound like you’ll be playing a game with the deceased, but in truth proponents say they are simply a modern way to honor a loved one. 

What Is a Digital or Interactive Gravestone?

Image of a QR Code with one corner lifted as if it were a sticker being peeled back.
Example of a QR code

A digital gravestone typically refers to one that has a custom QR code either etched into the stone itself or attached in some way. You’ve probably seen a QR code before; they’re the little squares on menus and grocery labels that look like badly formatted crossword puzzles. When you scan the QR code with your smartphone, you are taken to a memorial webpage for the deceased. (If you don’t know how to scan a QR code, it’s simple: aim your camera at the image and a yellow square will pop up with a link you can click on. Voilá: you’re taken to the page.)

The memorial webpage can include just about anything you want: a biography of the deceased, tributes from friends and family, pictures, videos, or even links to posts from the person’s social media accounts.

Why Would I Want a Digital Gravestone?

Hand holds a cellphone with a QR code displayed on the screen. In the background is a blue tone image of a city, with icons showing all the things the QR code ostensibly connects toHave you ever walked through a cemetery and conjectured about the people memorialized there? Most gravestones merely have the name, dates, and maybe a phrase of tribute, but those don’t really give you any idea about the life that person led. In a time when almost our entire life is — one way or another — already online, why not utilize the internet for memorialization?

The benefits to having this information readily available are plentiful, proponents say. For one, have you ever Googled yourself? What pops up first isn’t usually how you’d like to be remembered. (I tried it just now, and the top 20 hits were links for news articles about a popular haunted house event called Caitlin Manor. And I even have a professional website. Ugh.) By having a link to a page created by yourself (ahead of time, obviously) or by your loved ones after your demise, your gravestone can offer up the information you’d want to have memorialized. A digital marker could be easily updated and personalized, and it would also enable visitors to connect with friends, family, and community. (Imagine the possibilities this opens for genealogy hunters!)

The Argument Against QR Markers

Gravestones in neat straight lines go off into the distance, with green grass and trees
Arlington National Cemetery

As lovely as it is to think about a QR code on your gravestone allowing a descendant to connect with the deceased, some issues do warrant debate. QR codes have distinctly commercial connotations, having been popularized by companies for advertising purposes and tracking the movement of commodities. For some, their visible presence in graveyards is akin to dehumanizing the departed, conjuring up images of holocaust tattoos or dystopian fantasy novels. Arlington National Cemetery, in fact, recently debated and decided against incorporating QR codes as a means of linking gravestones to historical information about the dead. Although QR codes could give visitors a greater depth of information and appreciation for those buried there, the people in charge ultimately felt it was a breach of etiquette.

Similarly, the technology itself has some issues. QR codes facilitate the sharing of information, which necessarily raises issues of privacy and security measures. The websites they link to are easily customizable — so loved ones can control their content — but what rights do the deceased have over their own information? And what methods are being used to ensure that information isn’t being used in undesirable ways? The QR codes would be visibly placed in a public space, therefore offering anyone who scans them access to encoded information that might otherwise have been private.

Additionally, who’s to say that the technology behind QR codes will remain relevant? For this system to revolutionize the way we memorialize the dead, it needs to be lasting. Unlike granite or marble — chosen for gravestones due to their perdurable nature — we can’t rely on any technology weathering the inconsistencies of a mercurial future. Websites they link to, like the lawn around a traditional marker, require regular maintenance. Will you want to pay for someone else to perform the upkeep, or trust a loved one with this long-term responsibility?

How Do I Get a Digital Gravestone?

Digital gravestones can either be custom made by a company engraving the QR code directly into the stone (which tends to be pricey), or you can order small QR code attachments made out of wood, metal, or stone to affix to the gravestone. Some companies that currently offer this are: Plaquemaker, Michael Bourque (this option is free if you make a donation to an ALS charity), and Quiring Monuments. Some businesses provide website creation and maintenance services for a subscription fee, and others are more DIY, simply providing the physical QR code and leaving the rest up to you.

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