Janieke Bruin on Digital Culture in 2018 & 2019

Janieke Bruin-Mollenhorst

Digitalization and digital culture are not only reshaping the world we live in, they also reshape social sciences and the humanities in particular. Diggit Magazine was curious about the impact of digital culture on academia. Now, at the end of the year, we at Diggit Magazine thought that we could use the traditional 'end-of-year question-format' as a pretext to seduce researchers from all over the world and from many different sub-disciplines to reflect on this impact, and to look back and forward. 

Instead of the traditional end-of-year questions, we asked them about the impact of digital culture on their research practice and field of research in general.  We of course also asked them what they expect to happen in 2019. The traditional end-of-year questions, but reinvented from an academic, and more specifically, a digital culture studies perspective. 

In this interview, we ask Janieke Bruin to reflect on the impact of digital culture.

When did you notice that digitalization was substantially reshaping your research field?

In my research on music played during funerals in the Netherlands, it has become very clear that the development of recording technology in the 20th century and more recently the digitalization of music, has strongly influenced the music that is played during funeral rituals. At the beginning of the 20th century, there was only organ music, so people were dependent on the organ player. Nowadays, next of kin can just select any music they want, and bring it on a USB-stick or send it via the internet. Music from all genres, times and places have become easily accessible and are taken on mobile devices to any place and time.  

Can you give a concrete example of the impact of digital culture on your research domain?

There are so many! Let me give two short examples.
On the internet, you can find an enormous number of funeral music playlists. In this country, some of these playlists are created by the larger funeral organizations and consist of rankings of music that is most frequently played during funerals. Here you will finds songs such as 'Time to say goodbye', 'Ave Maria' and 'Afscheid nemen bestaat niet'. During interviews, I often hear that funeral undertakers refer to these rankings when they talk to next of kin about music for the funeral. If the family has no idea about the kind of music they want to hear, they will often look at these rankings and select from them. They often think this music ‘fits’ funerals. In this way, the online rankings of funeral music reinforce the popularity of these songs.

Online rankings of funeral music reinforce the popularity of these songs.

When funeral speakers prepare the funeral with the next of kin, they sometimes use their tablets or mobile phones to play a piece of music for them. If during a conversation the funeral speaker is reminded of a song that might be suitable for the funeral, he/she sometimes searches for it on the internet on the tablet/mobile phone and plays the song, so the next of kin can listen to it. The title of the song or a part of the lyrics sometimes become key elements in planning the funeral.

What was the most remarkable change in 2018 regarding digital culture and your research?

I don’t know if I can point at the most remarkable change. I mean, there are always changes in (digital) culture. However, in the context of death and dying, changes are always gradual and slow.

However, if I have to point at one particular ‘change’, it would be the advent of a second crematorium that has introduced highly advanced audiovisual possibilities, which has made it possible to create a disco or club sphere. In this way, the manager of the crematorium wants the experience of music during the funeral to meet the ways the younger generation experiences music. It is now possible to have loud music, lights flashing in any desired color and digital pictures pulsing on the beat of the music in the ceremonial chamber. For most of the current older generation, this doesn’t meet the way they experience music.

The clubbing atmosphere, afforded by digital technology, challenges the conventions of the ‘traditional’ funeral ritual. I’m very curious to see how this will develop in the future. Digital technology is increasingly part of funerals, but often it is invisible to the next of kin, or they aren’t aware of it. To what extent will people allow digital technologies to be part of the ways they pay their final respects to their deceased loved one? I mean, a hologram of the deceased, such as the 2014 hologram of Michael Jackson, might be too much during a funeral, but… on the other hand… well, we’ll see.


A hologram of the deceased, such as the 2014 hologram of Michael Jackson, might be too much during a funeral.

What do you expect will change in 2019 regarding the impact of digital culture on your research?

I think digital culture is continuously affecting funeral music and funerary culture– as far as you can separate digital culture from funeral music or funerary culture and vice versa. I do not expect sudden changes, although I do expect some new phenomena in the funerary branch. I’m looking forward to what 2019 will bring us!