Dreaming in Digital.

11 12 2007


Death goes digital: The electronic tombstone

Wow. I didn’t think we’d need to advertise our deaths. I guess people are afraid of being forgotten, afraid of being existentialists.

“WAUSAU, Wisconsin (AP) — No one would set a scrapbook filled with pictures and memories on the tombstone of a loved one. But what about a high-tech, weatherproof version, with digital images powered by a solar cell?

An electronic tombstone pays tribute to the deceased in colored pictures, words, music and even videos.

That innovation is available now — but finding customers so far has proven slow going.

“I haven’t sold any,” said Doug Ellis of Riverview Monuments, who has been offering the so-called “serenity panel” system for about $2,000 since February.

Many customers tell him “That is not for me,” he said, adding, “I think the Wausau area is a little more conservative yet.”

The panel mounts to the front of the gravestone and pays tribute to the deceased in color pictures, words, music and even videos. It’s all from a small memory chip inside a device that opens like the front cover of a book. Vidstone LLC, a company with offices in Florida and Colorado, developed the serenity panel about two years ago.

Cheri Lucking, Vidstone’s national sales director in Aurora, Colorado, said the company has about 100 dealers across the country, including two in Minnesota, four in Illinois and seven in Michigan, and one in the United Kingdom. Ellis is the only one in Wisconsin.

“We don’t release our sales figures,” she said. “It is not a huge number at the moment.”

Maria Schlitzberger, office manager of Schlitzberger and Daughters Monument Co. in Houston, said her company has sold one serenity panel in a year,

“That is a big step, putting electronics on your headstone,” she said. “People are used to sandblasted, granite and marble and things like that.”

Lucking likened the concept of putting a digital video scrapbook on a tombstone to when cell phones first came out and people said they would never own one.

“We all have one now,” she said.

Ways of honoring the dead are changing because of technology, Lucking said.

More funeral homes use state-of-the-art visuals and put LCD screens in their chapels to do multimedia presentations, she said. “Five or six years ago, they weren’t even doing video tributes.”

Four hours of sun provides enough juice to play the video with up to a 10-minute tribute on a 7-inch LCD screen about six times. There are headphone jacks to listen to the audio.

“I thought it was a neat thing to bring into the industry. Something unique, something a little above and beyond just the standard engraving and pictures that end up on a monument,” Ellis said.

Chuck Summers, retail sales manager for Moore Monument and Granite Co. in Sterling, Ill., has had the device for about three months and is awaiting his first sale, too. He’s got two good prospects but no signed deal.

“We range from $5,000 to $8,000 on a typical stone. When you tack on another $2,000 for the Vidstone, it gets pricey for the people in the area,” he said…”

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