Memorials for our times?

17 October 2012


By Nick Edmonds

TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS in the computer age sometimes come so thick and fast that it takes society a while to decide what to do with them.

One such development is the ‘QR’ (quick response) code. If you didn’t know what they were, you’ll certainly have seen them appearing lately on everything from bus shelters to breakfast cereal boxes.

The QR code is a matrix of dots which is recognisable by any phone or device with the correct app installed. A quick scan whisks the user directly to a website, or instructs the phone to perform some other function such as making a call or sending a text message to a competition line with preloaded content.

A QR code for this story

The unique selling point of this system is that for the first time, it allows integration between the digital world and the ‘real’ world, without the need for typing in lengthy web addresses.

So with this technology at their fingertips, developers and marketers have been wracking their brains to come up with innovative uses. One such that sticks in the mind was when a well-known supermarket launched a ‘virtual’ store on the Korean subway. (YouTube - external)

And in the church setting, QR codes have been used successfully to inform visitors of points of architectural interest, and to link congregation members from pew sheets to the correct web-links for more information.

And last week, the BBC reported that a Poole undertaker is offering the option of adding QR codes to gravestones (BBC - external), to provide a permanent link to an online tribute to the deceased in question.

A snag in the code

As with many novel ideas there are of course considerations which don’t meet the eye on first viewing, such as vulnerability of the websites in question to misdirection and hacking, and the worst case scenario of somebody scanning a code on a loved one’s grave, only be redirected to malicious content has triggered alarm bells.

Then there is the aesthetic impact for decision-making bodies to consider. The QR code – described by one journalist as ‘the face only a computer could love’ – with its harsh dots and boxes is considered by some to be a very unsightly addition.

Charles George QC

It is perhaps unsurprising then that CofE Dean of Arches Charles George QC (the judge who sits at the ecclesiastical court of the Archbishop of Canterbury) has advised that anybody wishing to add a QR code to an existing gravestone must therefore apply for a faculty, in order to assure that quality control is maintained. The sticking point for many, though, is that this private faculty, required by the Dean of Arches to add a code to either an existing or new memorial, is likely to cost the applicant £190.

What's the worst that could happen?

Head of Church Buildings for the Diocese, Cathy Roberts, believes that the requirement is a necessary step:

“You have to think about it from the angle, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’,” she said.
“And if that scenario is one where vulnerable grieving families suddenly find themselves downloading confronted with pornography, or making expensive long distance phone calls, then this would naturally be of great concern and so it is important that what is being added to monuments is monitored.”

And indeed this would appear to be far from an empty threat, with an increasing number of reports detailing instances of QR hacks and ‘attacks’ against users. One prominent instance was when the brand new Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone ‘factory reset’ code was discovered, and embedded into a QR code, with anyone scanning it suddenly losing the entire contents of their new device.

“The same worry attaches to the large number of children & adults of the general public who pass through churchyards daily and those with suitable phone handsets may access the QR code and experience the same problems,” said Cathy.

Finding a balance

“As a faith body, we know how important it is to create a fitting memorial to a loved one, however we also have a duty of care to make sure churchyards are maintained to a standard and style respectful to the memory of all buried there; it’s always about finding that balance.”
“It’s also important for people to go about things in the right way, and to find out about the processes involved before making any changes.”
“The best advice is for anyone who isn’t sure what the processes entail to give us a call and have a chat about it.”

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