Memento Mori: Digital Edition

Andrea Gaggioli*

*Autore corrispondente per questo lavoro

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in rivistaAbstract


Recently, I came across an app called WeCroak that does only one thing: it reminds you that you are going to die. Each day, the app sends you five push notifications at random times, which carry the message ‘‘Don’t forget, you’re going to die.’’ Then, you can swipe to read a quote about death from a poet, philosopher, or notable thinker. According to its inventors—Ian Thomas, a freelance app developer, and Hansa Bergwall, a publicist—the objective of the app is to help people to find happiness by contemplating their mortality. As WeCroak’s Web site ( explains, their creators were inspired by the Bhutanese folk saying that to be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily. And apparently, people like the idea. Since its publication, the app has been downloaded thousands of times, eventually ranking among the most popular apps in the health and fitness category. WeCroak has also received significant media attention, with coverage in popular publications such as The New York Times, The Times, and other prestigious news sources. However, despite the (perhaps unexpected) success, the concept of this app is not new. Actually, it may just represent the latest evolution of a centuries-old cultural tradition in Western Europe, epitomized by the Latin locution memento mori (meaning ‘‘remember you must die’’). This tradition reached its peak in the late Middle Ages, when it was used to compel the Christian believer to meditate on the caducity of earthly life in the prospect of the supernatural one. The memento mori theme has since then permeated funerary art and architecture: a well-known example are the Bone churches, called ossuaries, which can be found in several places in Europe and are made from piles of decorated skulls and bones (one of the most stunning that I have seen is The Chapel of Bones in E´ vora, Portugal, that is part of the largerRoyal Church of St. Francis, constructed by Franciscan monks in the late 16th century). However, the memento mori has also deeply influenced other art forms, including sculpture, painting, music, and poetry, where the theme of death is represented through various symbolic or allegorical forms. But beyond the popularity that WeCroak has gained in the media, what does science say about the psychological effects of death reminders? Research derived from terror management theory, developed in the mid 1980s by social psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski, and Sheldon Solomon, has consistently shown that people cope with the existential anxiety evoked by the awareness of the inevitability of death by investing in cultural world views and bolstering their self-esteem. Interestingly, most research done on terror management theory revolves around the ‘‘mortality salience paradigm,’’ in which thinking about death is actually generated through two openended questions: ‘‘describe the feelings that the thought of your own death arouses in you’’ and ‘‘describe what you think will happen to you physically as you die and once you are dead.’’ But regardless of the scientific conclusions that may be reached concerning the positive or negative effects of mortality salience, an interesting question is whether, in today’s Western world, an app that reminds us of our own mortality is really necessary. Actually, with the globalization of information and 24-hour media coverage of human and natural catastrophic events, the references to death in our life have become rather abundant. Paradoxically, the growing and ubiquitous exposure to images of death appearing in the media may risk neutralizing their psychological impact, turning people into increasingly passive and detached spectators of everyday life. From this perspective, the idea of an app that is able to make people actively thinking about their life (and death) through ad hoc reminders may have n
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)276-276
Numero di pagine1
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2018


  • Applied Psychology
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications1707 Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Social Psychology


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