The inability to grasp the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the pandemic is prompting the creation of a growing number of online sites and media efforts which list, name, and catalogue loss. Most of these efforts index social media posts and obituaries from the bereaved without their consent, dangerously mimicking the algorithmic processes that tech giants deploy to commodify and control our online presence. As people increasingly memorialize digitally from the confines of their homes, their stories are funneled through systems of surveillance capitalism; data mining of memories posted online can be considered a form of surveillance.
cv19memorial.org is uniquely interested in a critical response, transcending passively observational and voyeuristic efforts and becoming an online public sphere: a digital and transnational space to share experiences of loss during Covid-19. In a time marked by physical distance, we’re exploring ways of expressing pain through personal testimony, acknowledging widespread loss and trauma, especially for those living under conditions of violence or injustice made deeper by the virus.
Memorials assist our capacity to build a better future through understanding how unresolved past injustices resurface as the challenges of our present. This pandemic reveals how a person’s ethnic background, wealth, and access to information determines risk of death, impoverishment, and violence. Additionally, social distancing measures have displaced our lived, social experiences to online proxies, increasing our vulnerability to digital surveillance and commodification of our identities—even as we mourn on social media. To ensure a robust comprehension of the scale of pandemic violence, cv19memorial.org creates a safe space where people may contribute their testimony on loss without fear of unethical marketization, building an archive for our digital futures.
What it does
cv19memorial.org uses artistic and technological methods to invite participation in collectively processing the immense loss of this moment. Furthermore, it proposes a path toward justice by archiving and making available stories of loss to groups litigating, legislating, and defending human rights. In this way, the memorial bridges expressions of grief with transformative action and bridges the digital with lived, social experience.
How we built it
We have several committees, development, platform, internal management, and communications. We have worked together since the beginning of April, bringing on new people to our team along the way.
Challenges we ran into
We're a volunteer-run team with various commitments, jobs, and exhaustion brought on by the pandemic itself. We've had moments of urgency and moments of pause. The engineering side of our team has had to bear the brunt of the work and we faced challenges getting the amount of help we've needed.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
The site is currently in Phase I, we have dreams of what it will become though deeply appreciate where it is at so far. We have built a small following on social media and have continued to build a plan that will increase visibility and engagement. The site is functional and we've already heard from those who've shared their testimonies that it has been meaningful to have space to mourn.
What we learned
We’ve never lived in a time so saturated by memory: with each click on the internet, we produce incredible quantities of memory—and yet we have so little understanding of its importance. Most people think memory is just about remembering the past, but what good is it to remember anything if we don’t use our lived experience to inform choices that build a more just future? That’s what memory has always been about: the present and the future. Memory has ethical, political and aesthetic power, which can be used by the people to face health, economic, and ecological crises, or by corporations and governments wishing to exploit, surveil, and commodify. This is what our project, cv19memorial.org, is about: access to a safe space to provide testimony on the present, collectively witnessing loss, and creating a community to transform mourning into action for a just future.
What's next for cv19memorial
cv19memorial.org is live, though it is still in development and its full impacts are yet to come. We are currently expanding the aesthetic devices for the interior memorial experience and the global space that facilitate a sense of collective witnessing, including modes of user engagement with the testimonies. Central to this vision is an ability to participate directly with the memorial and leave notes or mementos for future visitors. We are also developing a database that will make the memorial searchable and allow for custom groupings of testimonies that hold common geopolitical, economic, demographic, or social conditions. In parallel, we are learning best practices for Data Security and Privacy Protection to ensure that no one can mine the information on the site without consent. Partnerships with individuals and organizations are beginning to mobilize the archive in other forums beyond digital space. Finally, we are connecting a community of contributors to launch diverse media campaigns on collective mourning and healing.