Thursday, August 18, 2005

Video Tombstones

If you've spent any time at a cemetary you undoubtedly have seen photos of the deceased included on a tombstone. Soon you may be able to see and hear the dead.

Robert Barrows has a patent pending for a weatherproofed, hollowed-out headstone that will house a microchip memory system and flat-screen TV. People will be able to film "talking tombstone" messages before they die, sharing highlights of their lives or whatever else they choose.

They might just relate their life stories, says Barrows, or worse: they could confess to lurid indiscretions. "It's history from the horse's mouth."

The tombstone would draw its electricity from the cemetery's lighting system. And to avoid a grave's soundtrack clashing with the one next door, people can also listen through wireless headphones.


If his patent is granted, Barrows hopes that when people make out their will, they also leave a parting video with their lawyer. They could also choose how grandiose to make their video monument: a standard flat-screen TV or perhaps a high-definition plasma screen in a more extravagant mausoleum.

Gary Collison, professor of American studies at Pennsylvania State University in Pittsburgh, thinks video tombstones are a natural progression from outsize monumental stonework.

"Cemeteries are places where people try to outdo each other, display their wealth and power. This would certainly be a new way to do that," he says.

I have assigned reporting students to pick a random tombstone in a cemetary and write a story about the person buried beneath it. That always meant digging for details. If these video tombstones catch on, students may find that excercise too easy.