(+) QR Codes Create Internet-Connected Tombstones – A Good or Bad Idea?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

QR Codes have many uses. They are often used on business cards and also in printed advertisements. Mercedes-Benz attaches them to automobiles so that rescue crews can use their smartphones or tablets to instantly retrieve information on how to make a speedy and safe recovery when using the “jaws of life” to extricate victims from an auto accident. (See http://www.gizmag.com/mercedes-benz-qr-codes/27675/.) Now genealogists have recently been finding QR Codes on tombstones and on columbariums

NOTE: A columbarium is is a place for storage of cinerary urns (i.e. urns holding a deceased’s cremated remains).

A QR Code (abbreviated from Quick Response Code) is the trademark for a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code) first designed for the automotive industry. You can see a typical QR Code to the right. You probably have seen similar QR Codes on all sorts of products and advertisements. To use a QR Code, use a smartphone (typically an Apple iPhone or an Android phone) with appropriate software installed to take a close-up picture of the QR Code. The software reads the QR Code and then opens a web browser that displays the web page address that is embedded within the dots of the QR Code.

In effect, the QR Code becomes a “pointer” that points to an Internet web page where you may find more information. The process of displaying that information is automated with little human interaction required, other than snapping the picture. QR Codes are now popular on everything from Coca-Cola advertisements to tombstones.

The QR Code system has become popular due to its fast readability and large storage capacity compared to standard UPC barcodes. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be made up of four standardized kinds (“modes”) of data (numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, Kanji), or through supported extensions, virtually any kind of data.

Tombstone manufacturers say that an attached QR Code makes the memorial almost like a form of social media. The QR Code attached to the tombstone points to a web page maintained by the family of the deceased. The web page might contain a biography of the person or it can point to an address where other people can text messages to the family. Family members also can share other stories that they’d like to share as well. It’s all up to the family. The QR Code points to one web page but that page could be the “entry page” for many pages of information about the individual and his or her life and family. The pages might include photos, biography, and other information.

QR Codes have started to appear on tombstones in the past two or three years. Last week, Anchorage, Alaska’s city assembly voted unanimously to allow families of the deceased to place QR Codes on its columbarium wall, a 600-foot long structure that can hold about 9,000 urns. For $150, families will be able to have a QR Code for their loved one, which will link to an obituary, photos or video commemorating the loved one. Details may be found at http://goo.gl/GLICnf.

The QR Codes for tombstones are typically made on stainless steel, ceramic, or some other material that will not deteriorate quickly. Adding a QR Code to a tombstone requires a one-time fee that’s included in the cost of the headstone. The fee can range from $99 to $400. A web page is also required although the page can exist on any web server. Information on the web page(s) also can be updated from time to time, something that would be difficult to do with traditional memorials and tombstones.

Several companies now create QR Codes for tombstones. You can learn more in a number of articles by starting first on Google at http://goo.gl/W3yLv.

QR Codes attached to tombstones are not without controversy, however. One objection to them is that most companies that create QR Codes for tombstones suggest attaching the QR Code by adhesive. When discussing historic tombstones, most tombstone scholars would be aghast at the idea of using adhesives or any other means to attach a new object to an existing tombstone.

NOTE: Adhesives are commonly used to repair broken tombstones. However, only certain types of adhesive are used because using an improper chemical mix in the adhesive can actually accelerate the tombstone’s decay. Some adhesives also expand or contract with changes in temperature. Using an improper adhesive will hasten the destruction of the tombstone; the exact opposite of what should happen.

If you are thinking of using an adhesive of any sort on any tombstone for any purpose, please first consult with an expert who knows what to use and especially what not to use! Even then, adhesives are normally only used to restore a tombstone to as close as possible to its original condition, not to add new attachments.

I believe I have a better idea than affixing QR Codes to a tombstone. I would love to hear your opinion.

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