Dying in the Digital Age

John Pedersen, as a Boy Scout, Camp Parsons, near Brinnon, Olympic Peninsula, Washington StateMy father-in-law died last week. He was 92 and lived near Brinnon in Washington State. He mostly lived on the same land with his wife Marilyn for more than 50 years, secluded, surrounded by pristine forests, an abundance of wildlife and the magical waters of Hood Canal, part of Puget Sound. 

John Pedersen did not have a computer, he could not comprehend email or the Internet. In his final days he tended his garden, read Tolstoy and The New Yorker and visited with his wife, who also enjoyed nature and shared his mistrust and suspicion of technology.

Now that John has passed, technology keeps his memory alive to those who could not make the trip to his memorial, and far flung family members who lost touch. The days of the simple obituary are gone. John Pedersen’s obituary online in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) includes a Guest Book, and links to send a gift, share a photo, or leave an audio message.

Legacy.comThe obituary service at the P-I is through Legacy.com , specializing in Memorial Websites ”Where life stories live on.” This is a valuable service and a brilliant business. Obituaries are the ‘most read’ section of a newspaper. We are naturally drawn to people’s stories. Self-described as “the Web’s dominant obituary resource and the leader in online memorialization,” the Legacy.com people are also obviously adept at ‘digital public relations.’  Their site includes bios and photos of luminaries who recently died and they create permanent memorial sites for notables such as Bettie Page .


  1. This online obituary on John Pedersen was a real eye-opener for me. The simplicity in his lifestyle living in this century is something I can imagine. It was great to know that a life without internet can also be interesting. Living in the lap of mother nature you are bound to have a healthy and fresh mind along with a fit body.

  2. Ben says:

    After reading this lovely article and response on the blog about John Pedersen’s right to choose no technology….I have to share this anecdote from last Christmas, when John was 91, my last memory of playing a big board game with him. We had about a dozen people around the table, including three generations, with players who make their living in various aspects of technology. We were playing a game called “Things,” an interpersonal “getting to know you” game where you put down a topic and a response to it, then try to guess who said it. The person whom no one can guess gets points, and you can also get points by being a good guesser at knowing what everyone else might say.

    John, of course, snowed us all, and won the game – he repeatedly wrote down answers we could not pin down to him, and knew us all so well, that he could identify what we wrote.

    The relevant topic though, is this: “Things that are NONE of your business.”

    Players wrote stuff like: The amount in my bank account. My sex life, etc.

    John, who’s never been on-line in his life, wrote “What I do online” – fully knowing that NONE of us would guess him.

    And he was right. And with that move (along with many others), won the game.

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