Rituals are arguably a universal feature of human social existence: just as one cannot envision a society without language, one would be equally hard-pressed to imagine a society without rituals. From morning grooming routines like brushing your teeth and getting a shower to the ways in which we greet and interact with one another, rituals help mark times of change; from birth, marriage, death, and various other things in between. Some say it is a fundamental fabric of what it is to be human. What seems to be so interesting about this cultural phenomenon has more to do more with the innate relationship it has with technology than sometimes the ritual itself.
If one is to go back as far as the Neolithic Period, you could see how society used fire, one form of technology, as an integral part of their rituals. Whether it was to get people’s attention, show signs of magical power, cook your food, provide light, or keep you warm, fire (technology) helped further facilitate social rituals. In some ways, this ancient technology infused itself with its culture to assist us to accept change and promote growth in our lives.
Now, if you fast forward to today you can still see how technology is still an important part of cultural rituals. Take the ritual of marriage, for instance, most often than not people will now use social media, texting, and email to let everyone know of an engagement.
Funerals as well. Many, if not all funeral homes now have online guestbooks that allow people to interact with grieving family members sharing memories of times gone by.
New today but a byproduct of social media and starting to get popular by many grieving millennials is the use of SnapChat and customized GeoFilters during funerals. And so, a geofilter is like a normal Snapchat filter: a design you can overlay onto a photo you take in the app. But geofilters are different because they are only available when you are in a certain location. So in many respects it like taking your guestbook online and in that way its like a form of digital grieving. You would actually take a photo at the funeral (obviously at the appropriate time) and share it with your online grieving community and even if your not physically there, anyone who sees the photo makes can be part of this grieving group. It results in everyone talking and sharing moments with each other.
And so, psychologically, these filters extend the feeling that other people are there with you in this virtual space during this time of need much like a funeral. Much like the ancient fire technology that created a ‘flashpoint’ memory for people participating in the ritual, a GeoFilter can be used to flash people’s attention making and marking the ritual a significant life event.
It really how our technologically-minded online world amplifies it. You can simply point, click, and share and anybody and everybody is there to partake. Corporations have also recognized this innate ritualistic urge by society to use technology within their rituals and rites of passage and have developed advertising campaigns that infuse technology and ritualistic themes with their products. For instance, commercials for shampoo use storylines and fill it with meaning to trick us into thinking that washing your hair it is a social ritual and that you should use their product for the best results.
I highly doubt most of us would buy a GeoFilter for a family member who has died but our own everyday rituals still do the same work. Infusing technology with a ritual or rite of passage bonds us to our community and helps us to navigate who we are when it’s time for us to change. Rituals will always be part of our culture and development and as we move into the chaos of the internet and online communities, associating rituals with technology might help us to make sense of our online selves.