REACT takes 'Platforms for Haunting' to SXSWi

REACT Heritage Sandbox alumnus John Troyer talks about his experience at the recent SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, TX

In March, REACT attended SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, to present 'Platforms for Haunting: The Talking Dead', a discussion panel masterminded by REACT Producer Jo. In the first of two blog posts from our panel participants, John Troyer of the University of Bath's Centre for Death and Society (and part of the REACT Heritage Sandbox) shares his thoughts on the SXSW experience.

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"This past March I went to the SXSW Interactive conference to discuss my participation in the REACT Heritage Sandbox and my work on the Future Cemetery project (@futurecemetery). I was part of a panel called Platforms for Haunting: The Talking Dead and being at SXSW was a fantastic way to spread the word about REACT.

I work in the University of Bath's Centre for Death and Society (@cendeathsociety) and a large part of my research focuses on the relationships between death, technology, and the dead body. My interest in technology spans the centuries and I wrote an essay for the Huffington Post UK while working on the REACT Future Cemetery project about how the human relationship with different kinds of technologies affects both death and the dead body .

What made the SXSW panel so compelling, for me, was that my fellow presenters (Tim Cole, Lucy Heywood, and David Kirk) all discussed how everyday technologies such as simple objects (e.g., books) as well as complicated video projection systems and mapping programmes effectively work to remember the dead - or, maybe not always remember the dead, but certainly reconstruct (and sometimes wholly invent) new representations for postmortem identities.

In a sense, our individual projects and presentations could not have been more different but they were all unified in tackling a complicated question: What is death's relationship with technology? And the only answer to really give is this: the relationship is always changing.

On the one hand technology has made human concepts of death all the more focused; you need only stroll through any cemetery (from any epoch) to physically see the technological organization and representation of human mortality. As I always point out, human cemeteries are actually dynamic technology platforms, even though our twenty-first century cultural sensibilities tend to see right past the stone angels.

On the other hand, death often resists too much technological encroachment by humans. We humans are good at inventing life support technologies and life extension technologies but none of these technological innovations can indefinitely beat the odds against dying. And that, in my opinion, is OK.

Some further, final, quick thoughts on attending SxSW Interactive:

1) Whoever figures out how to widely distribute wireless electricity will make a fortune at SXSW. I have never seen more individuals hunting like early human cave dwellers to find an available power outlet before their smart phones crashed.

2) Anytime I leave the UK some major dead body and technology story breaks and journalists from all over come looking for me. As I flew to SXSW, the Venezuelan government announced that former President Hugo Chavez's dead body would be specially embalmed and put on public display in a glass mausoleum. Yet, this particular dead body and technology story uncannily coincided with the Platforms for Haunting panel, so I welcomed the interview requests. The Huffington Post UK tracked me down in my Austin hotel room and cornered me on skype for an interview.

3) I really want to start a new multi-day conference/festival called Death by Deathwest that would more fully explore all the topics in the Platforms for Haunting: The Talking Dead panel and then some. Here's the thing—people from all over the world would come to it. Why? Because we humans love talking about death and dead bodies."

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In the next blog post, Lucy Heywood of Stand + Stare Collective shares her thoughts about SXSW.

You can listen to a full audio podcast of the Platforms for Haunting: The Talking Dead panel here.

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