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Innovation Design Engineering (MA/MSC)

Adarsh Nellore

Adarsh Nellore is a multidisciplinary designer interested in speculative and experimental futures, using critical design to imagine alternative realities. He received his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Duke University in biomedical engineering, working primarily with medical devices. 

Interested in the implications of technology on the human experience, Adarsh entered the field of design to study futures defined by the fusion of technology, culture, and biology. More specifically, he is inspired by the transition between the digital and physical worlds and its implications on human biological and cultural evolution.


The human experience with death and mortality is a significant indicator of the state of society. As medical technology continues to increase the average lifespan and smart technology immortalizes our personal data, we further escape the concept of death. Thus, the digital revolution is altering our fundamental understanding of death. As digital media and handheld hardware become proxies for our natural selves, will we fundamentally begin to change?

Thanatos critically examines concept of death in the digital space, speculating how the eternal preservation of our personal data by the Internet may lead to death rites for digital content in additional to the physical body. By converting digital content to physical materials, Thanatos allows users to incorporate their personal data into funerary practices for their physical body. Based on the general narratives of rites of passage, Thanatos is a ritual that takes the user through the following stages: placement, separation, preservation, and finally reincorporation.

By tackling the topic of death, I believe that Thanatos generates a communal understanding that we all struggle with the concept of personal mortality. The inclusion of ethically questionable technological practices often posed as facilitators of utopia into our struggle with personal mortality simply aggravates the uncertainty that is experienced. Through this project, I feel I was able to experience design as a unifying tool - able to communicate mutual anxieties people tend to confront on their own. In this way, the designer is able to create common ground with viewers with regards to cornerstone human experiences. 

Thanatos - A Death Rite Ritual for Digital Remains. — Will we develop death rite rituals for our digital remains eternally preserved by the Internet?

The Internet is a cemetery, preserving our personal data long after we die. By the end of the century, there may be more deceased users on social media than living, amounting to a digital afterlife. When we die, will we have death rites for our digital selves? Will large tech companies offer post-mortem services for users?

Named after the Greek god of non-violent death, Thanatos is a robotically-enabled death rite ritual that transforms digital remains into physical materials for funerary practices. This performance utilizes data physicalization to facilitate the ritual stages of separation, preservation, and finally reincorporation of digital remains.



Medium:

Materials variable

Size:

50cm x 50cm x 25cm
Circular Shrine Configuration.

The ritual begins when a set of 'robotic shrines' are placed in a circular configuration, emphasizing the significance of the circle as a ritualistic symbol. Each shrine is connected to a different Internet service of the user's choosing.

Robotic Shrines
Closeup of Robotic Shrine.
Robotic shrines carving out charcoal blocks, generating ashes.
Robotic shrines carving out charcoal blocks, generating ashes.
Closeup process of data physicalization. Generation of ashes.
Closeup process of data physicalization. Generation of ashes.
User demo of Thanatos -- Instagram as service.
User demo of Thanatos -- Instagram as service.

A Lifetime Ritual.

A set of robotic shrines placed in a circular configuration and mapped to specific Internet services are active during the user's digital lifetime, using data physicalization to symbolically separate digital remains from the digital space. The physicalized data can be then be used in death rite rituals in the form of ashes.

Each robotic shrine is connected to two servo motors with a drill that corresponds to an IP address of a different Internet service, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. A user is able to select which service holds the most importance to them.

Whenever a user accesses these services, a proxy device detects them by sniffing web traffic across the local router and then triggers two servo motors connected to a drill to carve out a piece of charcoal. The proxy device works by detecting the source IP address of the website or Internet service that is accessed.

Digital Ashes.
Urn Placement.
Urn Placement.

The digital ashes generated during a user's digital lifetime that can then be preserved in urns to memorialize the user's digital activity. The amount of ashes will vary based on how frequently the user utilized each service.

End-of-Life Memorialization.
Digital Grave Goods.
Digital Grave Goods.

The pieces of charcoal left intact can then be buried or cremated with the user as grave goods, thus reuniting or reincorporating a user's personal data with them in death. The preservation and reincorporation of digital remains represent how digital services and personal data might become treasured lifelong possessions.

Futures Beam Diagram — If the Internet continues to eternally preserve our data with very little ethical or regulatory framework in place, how might Internet religions develop?
Ritual Design Map — What sort of ritual might Thanatos be? To design this ritual, I chose to reflect the nature of personal data generation - individual and continuous.
Three Horizons Map - 1 — What might lead to the rise of thanatechological ritualism?
Three Horizons Map - 2 — What happens if the death care industry embraces emerging technologies?
Accessing Data Streams
Physicalizing Data - Initial Experimentation
Digital Prototype 1
Digital Prototype 1 - contd.
Physical Prototype 1
Physical Prototype 2
Digital Prototype 2
Digital Prototype 3