The front page of the July 15 Minneapolis StarTribune offered a story about QR codes on gravestones. QR codes are those square, black and white icons on a variety of products that you can scan with your smartphone to receive more information. On a gravestone, QR codes can host photos, videos, or a story about the deceased.
I have mixed feelings about QR codes on gravestones. On one hand, they have the potential to make the cemetery experience an even richer one. They can reach an audience who values a more interactive experience. I equate it to children who may not readily pick up a paper book, but they will sit down with a digital version that contains audio and video. As long as children are reading I’m for it, and if we need something “exciting” to draw people to cemeteries, great.
But I disagree with this quote from Norm Taple, president of Katzman Monument Co., which offers the QR codes: “There’s no emotional connection when all you can look at is a headstone, probably a dirty one at that.”
I happened to have written in entire book based on my emotional connections to gravestones throughout the years. My memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down, will be out next spring.
This passage from my first chapter illustrates the heart of my book:
“A book contains not only mere letters any more than a tombstone exists as only an etched, cold slab of granite. A book by itself functions as mere ornamentation, just a pretty prop on a bookshelf or coffee table. It cannot exist by itself. A reader needs to come along and make meaning. From a distance, our tombstones, too, function as mere ornamentation, escaping notice as we drive quickly past cemetery gates. But come close, stop, really read, and the stories will speak to you, too.”
The QR codes on gravestones cause me to worry about the loss of imagination in our culture. This is just another example of having stories handed to us. Mainstream Hollywood movies use easy-to-comprehend storylines and a plethora of explosions. Video games deliver similar packaged stories, complete with visuals, graphics, and audio. At times we seem afraid to use our imaginations, as we surround ourselves with multitasking at any given moment—television on, laptop open, smart phone at the ready, music pumping in our ears. We’re too assaulted by the media and drowning in textual conversations with people that we don’t give ourselves time to imagine.
Cemeteries are filled with stories that can be intuited even without QR codes. I encourage you to find those stories.