The ShapingTomorrowBlog just posted a quick review of an infographic from that appears to suggest the long awaited arrival of the paperless society. While paperless may be a misnomer, the infographic points out that office use of paper has declined since 2001 and its overall use has declined since 2006. Those are interesting statistics which could herald an even more significant decline happening very soon as smartphones, ereaders, tablets, and the various hybrids continue to grow in popularity.


The idea of a paperless society has been talked about since the 70s. Professor F.W. Lancaster, who coined the phrase, expected its arrival by the end of the 20th century–a typical time horizon for prognosticators of his time period. However, we still use millions of reams of paper everyday, but a significant decline in paper’s use is now being seen at least in the home printer industry. has published a useful infographic that reviews the changes in student use of paper. Now that the generations addicted to paper have graduated, the younger generations are focusing more on electronic devices for textbooks, notes, and probably doodling & gaming in class. The tablet owning student population tripled between 2011 and 2012, and 90% of that population say they use their tablets for educational purposes. More importantly, 70% of all students say they regularly use digital textbooks, and 60% say they prefer…

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Modern Memorials

Just as modern technology has changed the way we interact with the world and our understanding of it, new technological solutions are also enhancing our legacy and our ability to rest in peace.

What is changing?

For funeral homes, the internet is disrupting the industry as online stores sell coffins and mourners arrange various types of memorials online, but funeral homes have begun adapting to the digital age with new services to memorialize the dead that better reflect the networked lifestyle of the deceased and their survivors. A digital sign can be customized for each funeral with videos and pictures of the deceased along with rich graphics and live feeds, and funerals can also be live webcasted or tweeted for long distance family and friends who could not make the trip. QR codes and microchips can be placed on grave markers, benches, or plaques to direct the curious to webpages with the deceased’s bio, pictures, videos, links, etc.

For surviving friends and family, the deceased’s online activity has become a significant concern in more ways than one. For years, mourners have created webpages or social media profiles of loved ones who have passed away, and Facebook alone has about 30 million accounts set as deceased. But what happens when these pages and profiles become outdated, archived, redesigned or given new privacy policies? What happens to the currency left in online accounts when passwords are not designated to the deceased’s heirs? Conversely, who can view the skeletons—of the deceased’s or their contacts’ skeletons shared in private messages—locked in digital closets when those passwords are found?  Who owns the data left behind, and who has the power to decide how it is used? Each social network and email service has its own policies. Some will send family the digital files of their profile and activity before deleting them while others retain all files but archive the profile to act as a digital tombstone.

For those planning for their deaths, companies are offering virtual services that could solve some of these dilemmas. If I Die is a Facebook app that posthumously posts messages to friends on certain dates after a profile has been designated deceased, and another company sends posthumous emails so the dead can always have the last word. Legacy Locker is a web service that stores online accounts and passwords to be given to pre-designated family members or friends. While offering this secure solution to ensure the safe delivery of data only to the right people is a great idea, it could also provide cybercriminals with a large target to hack and steal readymade identities. Legacy Organizer is an iPhone app that allows the user to create a personal record of their life and legacy as they want to be remembered complete with music, videos, life defining events, memoir, final farewell, and a will. LifeNaut is an online service that takes all the same information and plugs it into an artificial intelligence with an avatar that acts for the deceased. Other researchers are attempting to create lifelike robots with AIs based on an individual’s data to bring the dead virtually back to life. Such a robot could give that individual’s eulogy at their own funeral or provide company to spouses in need.

Why is this important?

Much of our lasting legacy is increasingly centered on our online activity shared with the rest of the internet community and housed in digital databases, and everyone with online activity will have to give greater thought to their digital assets and the data housed in their many online accounts as well as the online accounts of their contacts. How do users want these accounts to be cared for when they are gone? Who should be the executor of your online accounts, and how can your executor access these accounts?

Deceased profiles are already lengthening the mourning periods for many survivors who see the deceased’s profile image on their own accounts. Some psychologists say this may be healthy, but how much longer will that mourning period last if avatars and robots can mimic a deceased person’s personality with the ability for mourners to seemingly interact with the deceased? The idea of digital resurrection carries with it many issues that could improve society with better coping mechanisms and information analysis while also presenting a variety of issues for legal and social changes. Will people wish to converse with their great grandparents’ AI? Could we see a modern version of the ancient practice of ancestor worship? Could that make society wiser or perpetuate familial mistakes? As such technologies allow our loved ones to overstay their lives, will we begin to see a new emotion arise—one of mourning for a loved one mixed with joy and affection toward a machine housing that loved one’s digital resurrection?

Another important question for those thinking about their legacy, how long should your data last? No doubt new services will appear that could use the data in morbid or distasteful ways. Many old grave markers are defaced around the world. Could a deceased person’s data be used to deface their memory, whether 10 or 200 years from now?

While a number of concerns surround the rise of modern memorials, they also offer more people the chance to be remembered for posterity. These digital legacies might maintain accurate records for longer periods than ever before assuming the technology remains capable of accessing and organizing our data in a useful manner for later generations. The data should provide historians with greater insight into the lives of common people of a given era, and the potential immortality of our digital legacies could even help society, or at least the online community, maintain a cultural and historical foundation.

Also, for an interesting look at how such practices are affecting more traditional cultures, check out this article about the New Zealand Maori:

Catching up after 2012

In May of 2012, my son was born. As a result, I have not only been busy being a father, but I have also been busy attracting as many projects as I could handle and working almost everyday. I can only remember having about 7 days off since my son was born, and so non-profitable activities like my semi-personal blogging has fallen by the wayside while I have tried to remain a devoted husband and father.

Just allocating the time to republish previously written trend alerts has been difficult, but I have finally found some time today to catch up. has now been updated with all of my trend alerts that were published for Shaping Tomorrow and also in InnovationManagement. In the intervening months, I’ve contributed to projects about big data, transnational crime, megacities, connecting the internet-of-things, and marine technology & issues. I also worked on projects concerning retail trends, travel trends, and radio listening trends.

The trend alerts which I missed are:

  • Innovating Nature is about geoengineering 
  • Internet of the Sea  is about efforts to connect sensors and unique identifiers all over the ocean
  • Future Funerals is about some of the innovative ways companies are developing to improve human internment
  • Modern Memorials is…well, let me republish that one here because I am especially proud of it
  • Personal Power Ups is the most recent and is about harnessing energy created by the human body

Well, that catches me up for 2012 for the most part. I am certain I have forgotten a few things, but I still have an article out waiting to be published and a couple of books waiting to be finished.