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Communications of the ACM


Death and the Digital World

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Erika S. Poole

As part of the CSCW 2010 blogging team, I'm writing a  series featuring work presented at the conference by some of the newest members of the field.

At the CSCW 2010 conference, 13 PhD students received invitations to participate in the Doctoral Colloquium, an event in which new scholars discuss their work with a panel of experts. In addition to being a great opportunity for students, the Doctoral Colloquium highlights some of the most exciting work in the field from promising young scholars. In particular, I couldn't help but notice that the students invited to this year's event presented work highlighting the deeply human side of information technology.

For example, imagine you’re a parent who has suffered the unthinkable: your child has died. How do you cope with such a traumatic, painful, and disorienting experience? For some parents, information technologies can play an important role in the grief and mourning process. Yet how are bereaved parents using technologies to grieve and mourn? If we were to design technologies that help people cope with grieving and loss in meaningful and respectful ways, what would they look like?

I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Massimi, a PhD candidate at University of Toronto who’s examining these questions for his thesis work. To understand how technology plays a role in modern grieving, Mike’s working extensively with two community organizations in the Ontario area that provide social support to parents who have suffered the loss of a child.  His next step is to create meaningful, appropriate, and respectful technologies that help bereaved parents mourn and remember their lost children.

Death and dying are experiences as old as humanity, and have been studied by scholars in other disciplines for centuries. Yet technology researchers and designers are  just now starting to come to grips with how to design with end-of-life experiences in mind.   If you're interested in learning more about this topic, Mike will be  co-hosting the first workshop (ever!) focused on death and the digital world at the upcoming ACM CHI 2010 conference. You can see more info about the upcoming workshop at


Erika Shehan Poole is a PhD candidate in human-centered computing at Georgia Tech. Her research focuses on how groups collaborate to use, maintain, and make sense of computing technologies; areas of study have included home technology maintenance practices, public understandings of emerging technologies, workplace adoption of collaboration software, and collaborative gaming technologies for improving health and wellness. Erika holds a BS degree in computer science from Purdue University and an MS in computer science from Georgia Tech.


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