03-07-19 // REST IN PIXELS – INTERVIEW WITH JAMES NORRIS
Bob Monkhouse’s television campaign for the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation
Bernd Upmeyer spoke with James Norris, who is the founder of MyWishes. This is a free service and one of its features allows users to post predesigned content, such as updates, pictures, and comments, at defined intervals or on certain important dates or anniversaries after their death. Norris is also the founder of The Digital Legacy Association, runs an annual, international conference called the Digital Legacy Conference and is a part-time lecturer and mentor in digital & social media at University College London (UCL). The conversation took place via Skype on July 3, 2019.
Posting from Death
Bernd Upmeyer: In a 2015 interview with the BBC you mentioned that your father died when you were quite young. Was this the moment you became interested in the “After Life”?
James Norris: I lost my father at a time when music was very important to me. I was going through a stage, where until just before his death, I was listening to Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue. I then moved onto Guns N’ Roses whose lyrics spoke about death and imagery of skulls. My musical repertoire had a lot of connotations about death and dying. I think that listening to words that related to death at a time when my father was ill was very impactful. After my Dad’s death I thought about the importance of the songs that I would want to have played at my funeral. I think losing my father at that time created a strong link for me between death and music.
A few years later I came across a charity TV commercial by Bob Monkhouse, where he encourages people to get tested for prostate cancer. What made the video so powerful was the fact it was shot to be broadcasted four years after his death. I thought, if a comedian could pass down his words of wisdom using a TV commercial, now, with the internet and social media, we should all be able to say goodbye in our own way. This led to the development of DeadSocial. DeadSocial lets users create a series of goodbye messages. These were saved and sent out to the users social media accounts such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. after they had died. Users would first write their ‘goodbye message’. Once created they assigned at least one trusted contact. They view or edit the message, but have to authenticate the user’s death by inserting a unique code paired with their email address.
This allowed for pre-recorded messages to be sent after the users death at a time when the trusted contact felt it was right to do so.
BU: You founded “DeadSocial” in 2013. Does it still work today as it worked at the beginning?
JN: Today “DeadSocial” has evolved into a much more comprehensive software called “MyWishes”. It is still free to use and as well as featuring the goodbye tool it also includes other areas like funeral planning, bucket list sharing, and documenting your wider and online wishes in a digital will.
If you have, for example, a Facebook, Instagram, Gambling account, Xbox or PlayStation account, you can make plans for each of them. This digital will can be downloaded and emailed to someone you trust…
… the complete interview was published in MONU #31 on the topic of After Life Urbanism on October 14, 2019.
Title: Rest in Pixels
Project: Interview with James Norris
Date: July 2019
Type: Commissioned interview
Topic: After Life Urbanism
Publications: MONU #31, P. 76-81
Interviewer: Bernd Upmeyer