Tuesday, November 05, 2013

"Happy Hallowmas!"

Fantastic article this week from Anglicans Online; check out the "Find a Grave" section.....
Hallo again to all.

Happy Hallowmas! Yes, that is easier to say than 'Have a happy triduum of All Hallows'.

Hallowmas, the Triduum of All Saints, the Triduum of All Hallows. Whatever it might be called, it's a time to remember the dead. Its three days are All Hallows Eve, All Hallows Day (All Saints Day), and the Day of All Souls. In countries that were once British colonies, the general public is very aware of All Hallows Eve, has probably heard of All Saints Day, and usually conflate All Saints Day with All Souls Day if they find the need to mention either.

We like to conflate the three days of the Hallowmas Triduum, even though we have carefully educated ourselves on the theological and historical nuances of each. The silly celebrations of Hallowe'en, the church service celebrating All Saints, the somber reflections on All Souls. While no child is likely to go guising on All Hallows Day itself, adults can remember and pray for the souls of the departed even while waiting for the next disguised child to say 'trick or treat'.

In Mexico, the entire Triduum is called 'Día de los Muertos' (Day of the Dead), though there are day-to-day nuances embodied more in local tradition than in formal scholarship. Mexican celebrations prominently feature skulls and skeletons as decor, not to scare children but to help remember and celebrate the dead.

It is nice to have time set aside each year for remembrance of the dead. But the mechanics of such remembrance have become more complex through the centuries. Once there were churchyards, and friends and family were actually interred there. One could stop at their headstones on the way to church each Sunday, to remember and pray. No more. There are now so many choices for final resting places that one can not make assumptions.

What to do? Can technology help? We at AO often reflect on the many ways that communication technology has enabled change to longstanding traditions. The internet might well have killed newspapers, but it didn't kill churchyard burials and Sunday visitations thereto. Those practices died a natural death, quite unaware of bits and bytes and bauds.

We claim that the answer is 'Yes, technology can help make up for our inabiity to remember our dead by visiting churchyards.'

Two characteristics of the internet come into play here. If you are going to look at something online, then it doesn't matter where it is. Distance and location don't matter. And the internet enables anyone and everyone to broadcast information in a manner once available only to owners of radio stations and publishing companies. No one is obligated to read what you write or say, but anyone can, and those who can might tell their friends about it. These two characteristics combine to enable a process widely known as 'crowdsourcing'.

When distance doesn't matter and crowdsourcing works, then something like Find a Grave can exist and flourish. And flourish it does. The server computers that sustain it can be anywhere*.   Crowdsourcing technology enables thousands of people all over the world to enter information and photographs. You can in a twinkling visit the gravesites of C S Lewis, St Augustine of Canterbury, Frederick Temple, Thomas Tallis, George Herbert, or Omar Khayyam.

Now that Find a Grave exists and has done its flourishing for a while, the notion of virtual churchyards becomes entirely practical. You can make a virtual churchyard that contains links to the grave records of a geographically diverse set of people. While viewing online a photograph of a gravestone is not at all the same experience as touching it and smelling it and kneeling in front of it to pray, it is certainly better than nothing and is a good way to remember, to keep alive the memory of the dead. Maybe someday in the future some kind soul might make a virtual churchyard of all of us who work on Anglicans Online.

We'll probably submit to Find a Grave a better picture of the Portland Stone marker at the grave of former Anglicans Online worker Frederic McFarland. But that marker, designed by Lida Kindersley and hand chiseled by one of her lettercutters, is something that must be seen and touched and walked around in order to understand fully.** The virtual world is better than isolation, but there is not any substitute for being there.

See you next week. Right here, which, um, is online and virtual.


3 November 2013

*Not that it matters, but the Find A Grave server is in Salt Lake City.
**Frederic McFarland's headsone is the only Kindersley work installed in North America.

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