Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, February 28, 2022
by Neil Senturia
The Metaverse. Alternate Reality. Virtual Reality.
Can’t I just go to the market and get a quart of real milk, without having to navigate a sea of cows who are in a game where if I don’t milk them fast enough, the cows will revolt and stampede my company, causing the HR department to have to deal with complaints of animal cruelty by PETA?
Along with crypto and NFT, and a plethora of other components in worlds that may or may not really exist, there has always been one event in our lives that up until now, could not be outsourced to a software application downloaded from Apple or the metaverse. Dying.
Nope, I’m wrong again. It turns out that there is no shortage of entrepreneurial innovation that is looking to disintermediate the afterlife. Technology has arrived now that is designed to make it easier to leave this mortal coil. Welcome to a new app designed to democratize death by providing direct-to-consumer cremation.
Michael Waters of The New York Times writes, “Less than two hours after you book a cremation with Eirene, a startup in Toronto, Canada, the company will dispatch a mortuary transit driver to pick up your loved one.”
I can’t help but smile, thinking that the founders of Eirene considered a bit of marketing humor in its name, a reminder of the famous song by Lead Belly, “Goodnight, Irene.” The words of the song include, “I’ll see you in my dreams.” Dying made easy with a double entendre.
Unfortunately, the app is not quite direct to consumer. It is more direct to your brother-in-law who never liked you in the first place. Or better yet, your beloved bride, who knows the famous Alan King monologue, “Survived by his wife.”
Walters goes on. “The body is ferried to a cold storage facility, where it stays while the paperwork is completed, and then a funeral director will tidy up the cremation and deliver the ashes to you in a week or so.”
In the United States, cremated remains are legally required to be shipped via the Postal Service (that should make you feel confident), and to that end, they developed a special tag, a Label 139, so your Aunt Tilly doesn’t end up in Oregon instead of Ohio. Now before you start to chuckle, herewith a statistic: The cremation rate in 2020 was 56 percent of all deaths, growing to 72 percent in 2030. OK, and who makes the cremation decision?
Careful here. You might think that you do. But it is very possible that decision is being made by your Gen X, Y or Z siblings or offspring, whose lives are online and digital, and the chance of their knowing where the closest funeral home is is less than knowing where the closest Starbucks is.
The companies, Eirene, Solace, Tulip, to name a few, use their software to improve the cremation experience, and help you get rid of the corpse quick and easy. The companies take a painful, emotional, heart-felt, human moment and simply do a no muss, no fuss fix. They disintermediate the middle man, your dad, who was hoping you might say a few words before you spread his ashes in the backyard compost pit.
The companies have all raised money and I do understand the economics at scale, particularly if you control 170-plus funeral homes, but I want to ask the world, meta, virtual or alternate, to consider that not everything needs to be made more efficient. I am going to argue for some tears and some moments of reflection.
I know I am out of step, but ruthless efficiency is not always the answer. My wife already thinks I live in an alternate reality world anyway, and the massive reach of technology runs the risk in my opinion of disintermediating feelings, the stuff of being human, the “Tuesdays with Morrie” emotions. I know I’m an old man, so I ask you to simply roll your eyes and humor me.
But you know software has glitches, and the Internet does go down from time to time, so maybe would it kill you (no pun) to take a couple of minutes to look at the body first. What if they got the wrong guy?
Rule No. 702: How big an urn will I need?