Technology has opened many doors and has provided us the opportunity for memorializing our lives in many different ways, but what consequences await such an approach? And more importantly, how does this affect our ability to remember the people, events, and circumstances that matter most?
Recently, there’s been the rise in the creation of virtual genocide memorials. These online sites are meant to memorialize the victims of such tragedies and to provide an opportunity for educating and informing the public.
One example of this is “Through a Glass Darkly”, an interactive website devoted to the Rwandan genocide that was established by a team of researchers and partially funded by Harvard University. It is comprised of photos, maps and testimonies of the tragic events surrounding the country’s 1994 ethnic conflict. Devoted solely to the Rwandian genocide, this interactive website features an array of information relevant to the universe of genocide memorials. After navigating to the site, individuals are greeted by a page of photographs each one representing genocide memorials in Rwanda from 1994 to present day. It neatly and aesthetically compiles photographs, maps and testimonies for the viewing pleasure of those who wish to learn about the Rwandian genocide; although, genocide is never a neat or clean topic.
In 2011, a software developing company voluntarily created a virtual, 3-D replicate of the Armenian Genocide Complex located in Yerevan. The website allows users to navigate through the compound and observe the surroundings from multiple perspectives. Users can also have the option to lay virtual flowers next to the external flame monument, providing a more interactive experience.
While viewing these virtual memorials is an easier and faster way to approach such an uncomfortable subject, the distance the screen ultimately creates only lessens the impact for understanding its true intention. To see it within our own reach, with our own eyes and in a tangible way is necessary. To be confronted with artifacts like shoes, hair clippings, and eyeglasses housed in Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museumin person is much different from seeing a photographic reproduction of it. In that moment there is no escaping, no exit button. This is what is needed.
Nonetheless, these virtual memorials do offer some benefits. They can broaden our awareness by reaching out to an audience that may otherwise not be able to access these sites in person – either for financial or political reasons. As well, they provide an additional resource for educating the public and provide individuals with a space to grieve in private.
Yet, much of the fundamental aspects are lost especially surrounding our ability to connect more emotionally and to empathize with the subject matter. Providing shortcuts for situations and circumstances that require deep reflection and thought, these online memorials can unknowingly cause us to disengage.
Rather, it is our willingness to remember attentively that pushes us forward and away from having such atrocities in the future. In visiting a memorial in person, we are able to connect more deeply and thoroughly acknowledge what is brought forth to us. Virtual memorials work well for our ever-decreasing attention spans, but it is my opinion that they do little to make a real impact in our lives.