Exploring Thanotechnology Education through 3D Environments

Exploring Thanotechnology Education through 3D Environments

Technology is being used for social networking, marketing, entertainment purposes, and many other forms of interaction. Social networks, virtual worlds, and online businesses are available for users to interact with many other users, for education, to purchase products and many other activities. Most online digital products can be downloaded on a user’s hard drive or on a cloud server. There are many digital artifacts that become stored on computers including music, photos and software.  All users of these social networks, virtual worlds, and online businesses unfortunately, will eventually pass away; so what becomes of their content and previous online digital purchases? What are online businesses’ policies for decease users? Should the legal system become more involved as this becomes more of a societal problem? Some suggestions on how social networks, virtual worlds, and online businesses should deal with users’ death will be discussed as part of this project. We are specifically interested in how we can educate users on how to prepare for their digital death and how these tools are being used in that context.

            There are terms of service agreements on social networks and virtual worlds. There are company rights and user rights. There are also privacy rights for users, but information on a social network can be investigated and after a user’s death, access to content can become complicated. Users can choose to accept the terms of agreement or choose not to use the site. Relatives of the decease may choose to hire a lawyer to try to obtain information or media that was created or purchased from that deceased loved one. As we live in a digital world, social networks such as Twitter, Myspace, and Facebook, have become one of the ways users can communicate with other users. Users can post memorials of the decease on these sites or express their condolences. Some decease users of these sites offered goods and services that other users could purchase from them. There are virtual worlds such as Twinity, Meez, and Second Life, for users to explore virtual worlds. There are many businesses that are online for consumers to purchase downloads of movies, music, games, and books. Amazon is one of the online businesses that offer cloud computing for their users to store media that they purchased.Virtualmemorial.com and Lastmemories.com offer users to create an account to build online memorials or websites of deceased humans and or pets. Users can incorporate photos, music, messages, and other features on these sites for the decease. Users can also search or view other memorials that were created by other users.  Boyd and Ellison defines a web-based social networking site as a service that allows users to: “(1) Construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (pg 211).

Another issue that we intent to investigate as part of a proposal model by Braman, Dudley and Vincenti, is that of usage and expression of death through technology (2011). Social networks and virtual worlds help users express themselves about death in a constructive way. Users can communicate with other users who may be sharing the same loss as they are. Virtual graves sites such as Luxeternal, can help users visit the resting place of the decease without physically being there. Sometimes it’s harder for a person who is grieving a deceased loved one to physically go to the actual cemetery, but virtual cemeteries allow users more flexibility to visit the grave site online.

Schools should teach students about dealing with death on social networks and virtual sights to prevent misuse. Some users on social networks can be cruel on comments about the decease, which may cause the others users to be distressed. So there are pros and cons about users putting expressing themselves about death on social networks. What a user should download from online sites should also have some precautions just in case of death. Some users whom are decease have media that they have downloaded may not be offensive to some family members, so users should think twice of what they would like people to think about them.

The social repercussions of interacting in these worlds are not simply artifacts that remain in these online spaces, but can influence the actions and experiences of other users as well as manifest in our real lives. Besides creating content for entertainment purposes, many users also spend large amounts of time creating virtual businesses, trying to make an income in real life. There is often overlap of our real lives into our digital ones. Because of the linking of the real world to the virtual world other concerns arise, such as what happens to our content and identities if something happens to the user.   In this study we consider several issues concerning a user’s death, particularly when considering online interactions that involve virtual worlds. This study will examine the effect of death on user content and how this can create problems. It is important to consider our virtual creations, connections and information as part of our virtual legacies. Users should consider the avatar if something were to happen to them in real life as this could also affect other users.  In this view point we also will examine virtual memorialization and investigate suggestions on protecting and preserving one’s own content for the future.



Boyd, D. and Ellison, N. “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13(2008) pg 210-230.

Braman, J. Dudley, A. Vincenti, G. (2011) Death, Social Networks and Virtual Worlds: A Look into the Digital Afterlife. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Software Engineering Research, Management and Applications (SERA 2011). Baltimore, MD USA.

Objectives of study


The overall objectives for this work are to:

  1. To conduct a thorough literature review concerning current research on virtual worlds and Social networks with an emphasis on issues of death, legal and ethical issues related to content and memorialization. (Thanotechnology)
  2. Investigate how the perceptions of death related to SNS/ MUVEs and real life overlap. How will the use of social media and virtual worlds impact Real Life as more content is digitized and need to be accessed after a user has passed away?
  3. Survey and obtain feedback as to the perception of thanotechnology (Note: IRB Approval is granted as of Spring 2012)
  4. Investigate the validity of a preliminary model of users related to death (see Braman et al, 2011)



The student is expected to thoroughly research on this topic which will include research in the areas related to Web 2.0, thanotechnology, end of life education, SNS/ MUVEs, Interaction models, legal and ethical issues, digital content, embodiment and data collection methods. Once the literature review is complete and main areas are identified, a survey will be devised in order to collect detailed information. Based on the findings of the survey in relation to the research questions, a report will summarize the results and literature review. The student will also need to conduct research from within the Second Life environment itself, identifying and cataloging data.

Schedule of student-advisor meetings


A scheduled meeting will take place each week online to report on new findings and/or progress on the project. The instructor and student will also communicate via email during the time span of the project to insure timeliness in completion. A detailed timeline of scheduled meetings and goals will be established at the start of the semester.

Reading list/references (Not including Student’s Literature Review)

Bailenson, J.N., Yee, N., Blascovich, J., Beall, A.C., Lundblad, N., & Jin, M. (2008). The use of immersive virtual reality in the learning sciences: Digital transformations of teachers, students, and social context. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17, 102-141.

Burdea, G.  Coiffet, P. (2003) Virtual Reality Technology, Second Edition. Wiley Books.

Braman, J. Dudley, A. Vincenti, G. (2011) Death, Social Networks and Virtual Worlds: A Look into the Digital Afterlife. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Software Engineering Research, Management and Applications (SERA 2011). Baltimore, MD USA.

Carroll, E. Romano, J. (2010) Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter Are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy? New Riders Press.

Castronova, E. (2007) Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality. P algrave Macmillan Press.

Ducheneaut, N., Wen, M., Yee, N., & Wadley, G. (2009). Body and mind: a study of avatar personalization in three virtual worlds. Proceedings of CHI 2009.

Vincenti, G. Braman, J. (2010) Teaching through Multi-User Virtual Environments: Applying Dynamic Elements to the Modern Classroom. Information Science Reference.

Wang, Y. Braman, J.  (2009) Extending the Classroom through Second Life. Journal of Information Systems Education. Special Issue: Impacts of Web 2.0 and Virtual World Technologies on IS Education. . Vol. 20, Num. 2 http://www.jise.appstate.edu/index.htm

Yee, N. & Bailenson, J.N. (2010). The Difference Between Being and Seeing: The Relative Contribution of Self Perception and Priming to Behavioral Changes via Digital Self-Representation. Media Psychology.

Grading criteria

To earn at least a “C” in the course, The final report needs to be an intensive, high quality paper of a minimum of 30 pages and use APA format. Any sign of plagiarism or improper citations will result in the grade of “F”.

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Exploring Thanotechnology Education through 3D Environments


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