Thanatosensitivity describes an epistemological-methodological approach into technological research and design that actively seeks to integrate the facts of mortality, dying, and death into traditional user-centered design. First coined by Michael Massimi and Andrea Charise from the University of Toronto in a joint paper presented at CHI 2009, thanatosensitivity refers to a humanistically grounded approach to human–computer interaction (HCI) research and design that recognizes and engages with the conceptual and practical issues surrounding death in the creation of interactive systems.[1]

The term thanatosensitive is derived from the ancient Greek mythological personification of death, Thanatos (Greek: Θάνατος (Thánatos), "Death"), which is itself a term associated with the notion of the death drive common to 20th-century post-Freudian thought. This inter- or multi-disciplinarity is crucial to thanatosensitive investigation because, unlike many areas of HCI research, studies of death and mortality are rarely amenable to laboratory study or traditional fieldwork approaches. As Massimi and Charise argue, the critical humanist aspect of thanatosensitivity effectively offers "a non-invasive strategy for better understanding the conceptual and practical issues surrounding death, computing, and human experience".[1]

Conceptual and practical applications

Historically, design and research in the computer sciences has rarely considered the issues pursuant to the death of the user. However, Lindley et al. note, "[s]hifts in the field of HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) coupled with the growing maturity of interactive technologies is leading researchers and designers to consider issues relating to mortality."[2] The proliferation of digitally mediated (and often password-protected) personal data and online identities, as well as biometrical practices, "routinely assume a living body for access",[1] which makes access to data following death increasingly problematic for individuals and relatives, as well as institutions and corporations, that may have claims to or stakes in such materials. A 2004 news story describes how Yahoo! denied the family of Justin Ellsworth, a deceased US marine, access to his email, preventing them from accessing information necessary for handling the aftermath of the account owner's death.[3] Determining how digital information and artefacts "can be bequeathed, inherited, and appropriately repurposed"[4] while accounting for the complexity of privacy concerns presents a new horizon of human-computer interaction research. "At a fundamental level, such issues are becoming increasingly prominent as technology companies decide how to handle email accounts or webpages belonging to people who are now deceased."[2] Recent scholarship in this area has called for the development of more purposive applications for facilitating the inheritance of digital materials.[5]

Moreover, the ways in which people use technology in practices concerning mortality, dying, and death are areas of HCI research that have historically received little attention.[6] Although technological artefacts that address issues of the end of life are increasingly common (e.g. online memorials), academic research in this area is at an early stage. Such "thanatechnologies"[7] seek to meet numerous needs, including memorialisation, bereavement support and communication, archiving, access to information and resources, and so on. While many thanatechnologies exist, relatively few are the product of a thanatosensitive design process; rather, they are appropriations of general purpose technologies. For example, forum management software is not explicitly concerned with the mortality of its users; however, online forums are a common place for the bereaved to communicate regarding loss in the form of formal and (more commonly) informal online memorials.[8] Additionally, 3D virtual worlds are beginning to be explored as spaces for informal memorialization.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Massimi, Michael; Andrea Charise (2009). Dying, death, and mortality: towards thanatosensitivity in HCI. CHI EA '09: Proceedings of the 27th International Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. pp. 2459–2468. doi:10.1145/1520340.1520349. ISBN 9781605582474.
  2. ^ a b Lindley, Siân E.; Eduardo H. Calvillo Gámez; Juan José Gámez Leija (April 2010). "Remembering rituals of remembrance: Capturing Xantolo through SenseCam". CHI 2010 Workshop on HCI at the End of Life.
  3. ^ "Yahoo denies family access to dead marine's e-mail". CNET News. December 21, 2004.
  4. ^ Wendy Moncur; Annalu Waller (2010). "Digital Inheritance". RCUK Digital Futures 2010.
  5. ^ Wiley, Cyndi; Wang, Yun; Musselman, Ryan; Krumm, Beverly; Stephanidis, Constantine (2011). "Connecting Generations: Preserving Memories with Thanatosensitive Technologies". In Constantine Stephanidis (ed.). HCI International 2011 – Posters' Extended Abstracts. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. pp. 474–478. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-22098-2_95. ISBN 978-3-642-22098-2.
  6. ^ "HCI at the end of life: Understanding death, dying, and the digital" (PDF). Proc. CHI 2010 Extended Abstracts, 4477-4480.
  7. ^ Carla Sofka; Kathleen Gilbert; Illene Noppe (2012). Thanatechnology: Dying, Death, and Grief in an Online Universe. Springer Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-8261-0732-9.
  8. ^ Jed Brubaker; Janet Vertesi. "Death and the Social Network". Paper presented at the CHI 2010 workshop HCI at the End of Life.
  9. ^ Braman, James; Dudley, Alfreda; Vincenti, Giovanni (2011). Death, Social Networks and Virtual Worlds: A Look into the Digital Afterlife. 9th International Conference on Software Engineering Research, Management and Applications (SERA), 2011 IEEE. pp. 186–192. doi:10.1109/SERA.2011.35. ISBN 978-1-4577-1028-5.

External links

Algor mortis

Algor mortis (Latin: algor—coldness; mortis—of death), the second stage of death, is the change in body temperature post mortem, until the ambient temperature is matched. This is generally a steady decline, although if the ambient temperature is above the body temperature (such as in a hot desert), the change in temperature will be positive, as the (relatively) cooler body acclimates to the warmer environment. External factors can have a significant influence.

The term was first used by Dowler in 1849. The first published measurements of the intervals of temperature after death were done by Dr John Davey in 1839.

Dead on arrival

Dead on arrival (DOA), also dead in the field and brought in dead (BID), indicates that a patient was found to be already clinically dead upon the arrival of professional medical assistance, often in the form of first responders such as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or police.

In some jurisdictions, first responders must consult verbally with a physician before officially pronouncing a patient deceased, but once cardiopulmonary resuscitation is initiated, it must be continued until a physician can pronounce the patient dead.

Death and the Internet

A recent extension to the cultural relationship with death is the increasing number of people who die having created a large amount of digital content, such as social media profiles, that will remain after death. This may result in concern and confusion, because of automated features of dormant accounts (e.g. birthday reminders), uncertainty of the deceased's preferences that profiles be deleted or left as a memorial, and whether information that may violate the deceased's privacy (such as email or browser history) should be made accessible to family.

Issues with how this information is sensitively dealt with are further complicated as it may belong to the service provider (not the deceased) and many do not have clear policies on what happens to the accounts of deceased users. While some sites, including Facebook and Twitter, have policies related to death, others remain dormant until deleted due to inactivity or transferred to family or friends. The FADA (Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act) was set in place to legally make it possible to transfer digital possessions legally.

Death messenger

Death messengers, in former times, were those who were dispatched to spread the news that an inhabitant of their city or village had died. They were to wear unadorned black and go door to door with the message, "You are asked to attend the funeral of the departed __________ at (time, date, and place)." This was all they were allowed to say, and were to move on to the next house immediately after uttering the announcement. This tradition persisted in some areas to as late as the mid-19th century.

Death pose

Dinosaur and bird fossils are frequently found in a characteristic posture consisting of head thrown back, tail extended, and mouth wide open. The cause of this posture—sometimes called a "death pose"—has been a matter of scientific debate. Traditional explanations ranged from strong ligaments in the animal's neck desiccating and contracting to draw the body into the pose, to water currents randomly arranging the remains in the position.Faux and Padian suggested in 2007 that the live animal was suffering opisthotonus during its death throes, and that the pose is not the result of any post-mortem process at all. They also reject the idea of water as responsible for randomly arranging the bodies in a "death pose", as different parts of the body and the limbs can be in different directions, which they found unlikely to be the result of moving water. They also found that the claim that drying out of ligaments would make the position does not seem believable either.

Alicia Cutler and colleagues from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, think it is related to water. In 2012, paleontologists Achim G. Reisdorf and Michael Wuttke published a study regarding death poses. According to the conclusions of this study, the so-called "opisthotonic posture" is not the result of a cerebral illness creating muscle spasms, and also not of a rapid burial. Rather, peri-mortem submersion resulted in buoyancy that enabled the Ligamentum elasticum to pull the head and tail back.

Death rattle

Terminal respiratory secretions (or simply terminal secretions), known colloquially as a death rattle, are sounds often produced by someone who is near death as a result of fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulating in the throat and upper chest. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow and may have increased production of bronchial secretions, resulting in such an accumulation. Usually, two or three days earlier, the symptoms of approaching death can be observed as saliva accumulates in the throat, making it very difficult to take even a spoonful of water. Related symptoms can include shortness of breath and rapid chest movement. While death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex, such as brain injuries.It is sometimes misinterpreted as the sound of the person choking to death, or alternatively, that they are gargling.

Dignified death

Dignified death is a somewhat elusive concept often related to suicide. One factor that has been cited as a core component of dignified death is maintaining a sense of control. Another view is that a truly dignified death is an extension of a dignified life. There is some concern that assisted suicide does not guarantee a dignified death, since some patients may experience complications such as nausea and vomiting. There is some concern that age discrimination denies the elderly a dignified death.


In medicine, dysthanasia means "bad death" and is considered a common fault of modern medicine.Dysthanasia occurs when a person who is dying has their biological life extended through technological means without regard to the person's quality of life. Technologies such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, artificial ventilation, ventricular assist devices, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation can extend the dying process.

Dysthanasia is a term generally used when a person is seen to be kept alive artificially in a condition where, otherwise, they cannot survive; sometimes for some sort of ulterior motive. The term was used frequently in the investigation into the death of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna in 1994.The etymology of the term is from the Greek language: δυσ, dus; "bad, difficult" + θάνατος, thanatos; "death".

Lazarus sign

The Lazarus sign or Lazarus reflex is a reflex movement in brain-dead or brainstem failure patients, which causes them to briefly raise their arms and drop them crossed on their chests (in a position similar to some Egyptian mummies). The phenomenon is named after the Biblical figure Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus Christ raised from the dead in the Gospel of John.


Megadeath (or megacorpse) is one million human deaths, usually caused by a nuclear explosion. The term was used by scientists and thinkers who strategized likely outcomes of all-out nuclear warfare.


A necronym (from the Greek words νεκρός, nekros, "dead" and ὄνομα ónoma, "name") is a reference to, or name of, a person who has died. Many cultures have taboos and traditions associated with referring to such a person. These vary from the extreme of never again speaking the person's real name, often using some circumlocution instead, to the opposite extreme of commemorating it incessantly by naming other things or people after the deceased.

For instance, in some cultures it is common for a newborn child to receive the name (a necronym) of a relative who has recently died, while in others to reuse such a name would be considered extremely inappropriate or even forbidden. While this varies from culture to culture, the use of necronyms is quite common.


Necrophobia is a specific phobia which is the irrational fear of dead things (e.g., corpses) as well as things associated with death (e.g., coffins, tombstones, funerals, cemeteries). With all types of emotions, obsession with death becomes evident in both fascination and objectification. In a cultural sense, necrophobia may also be used to mean a fear of the dead by a cultural group, e.g., a belief that the spirits of the dead will return to haunt the living.Symptoms include: shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, dry mouth and shaking, feeling sick and uneasy, psychological instability, and an altogether feeling of dread and trepidation. The sufferer may feel this phobia all the time. The sufferer may also experience this sensation when something triggers the fear, like a close encounter with a dead animal or the funeral of a loved one or friend. The fear may have developed when a person witnessed a death, or was forced to attend a funeral as a child. Some people experience this after viewing frightening media.The fear can manifest itself as a serious condition. Treatment options include medication and therapy.The word necrophobia is derived from the Greek nekros (νεκρός) for "corpse" and the Greek phobos (φόβος) for "fear".


An obituary (obit for short) is a news article that reports the recent death of a person, typically along with an account of the person's life and information about the upcoming funeral. In large cities and larger newspapers, obituaries are written only for people considered significant. In local newspapers, an obituary may be published for any local resident upon death. A necrology is a register or list of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, which may only contain the sparsest details, or small obituaries. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information.

Two types of paid advertisements are related to obituaries. One, known as a death notice, omits most biographical details and may be a legally required public notice under some circumstances. The other type, a paid memorial advertisement, is usually written by family members or friends, perhaps with assistance from a funeral home. Both types of paid advertisements are usually run as classified advertisements.

Outline of death

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to death:

Death – termination of all biological functions that sustain a living organism.

Pallor mortis

Pallor mortis (Latin: pallor "paleness", mortis "of death"), the first stage of death, is an after-death paleness that occurs in those with light/white skin.

Post-mortem interval

Post-mortem interval (PMI) is the time that has elapsed since a person has died. If the time in question is not known, a number of medical/scientific techniques are used to determine it. This also can refer to the stage of decomposition of the body.

Rigor mortis

Rigor mortis (Latin: rigor "stiffness", mortis "of death"), or postmortem rigidity, is the third stage of death. It is one of the recognizable signs of death, characterized by stiffening of the limbs of the corpse caused by chemical changes in the muscles postmortem. In humans, rigor mortis can occur as soon as four hours after death.


Skeletonization refers to the final stage of decomposition, during which the last vestiges of the soft tissues of a corpse or carcass have decayed or dried to the point that the skeleton is exposed. By the end of the skeletonization process, all soft tissue will have been eliminated, leaving only disarticulated bones. In a temperate climate, it usually requires three weeks to several years for a body to completely decompose into a skeleton, depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, presence of insects, and submergence in a substrate such as water. In tropical climates, skeletonization can occur in weeks, while in tundra areas, skeletonization may take years or may never occur, if subzero temperatures persist. Natural embalming processes in peat bogs or salt deserts can delay the process indefinitely, sometimes resulting in natural mummification.The rate of skeletonization and the present condition of a corpse or carcass can be used to determine the time of death.After skeletonization, if scavenging animals do not destroy or remove the bones, acids in many fertile soils take about 20 years to completely dissolve the skeleton of mid- to large-size mammals, such as humans, leaving no trace of the organism. In neutral-pH soil or sand, the skeleton can persist for hundreds of years before it finally disintegrates. Alternately, especially in very fine, dry, salty, anoxic, or mildly alkaline soils, bones may undergo fossilization, converting into minerals that may persist indefinitely.


Thanatology or deathlore is the scientific study of death and the losses brought about as a result. It investigates the mechanisms and forensic aspects of death, such as bodily changes that accompany death and the post-mortem period, as well as wider psychological and social aspects related to death. It is primarily an interdisciplinary study offered as a course of study at numerous colleges and universities.

The word is derived from the Greek language. In Greek mythology, Thanatos (θάνατος: "death") is the personification of death. The English suffix -ology derives from the Greek suffix -logia (-λογια: "speaking").

In medicine
After death

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