Death is analog

We spend so much of our lives split between our digital and analog worlds, but that changes when somebody dies.

By Brad Berens

When the phone rings before 6am it tends not to be good news. Saturday, September 9. Mom. “Evan died.” My younger brother. He was 52.

In life, our attention bounces between digital and analog worlds, but death is just analog. When a person dies, those left behind don’t have the luxury of freezing into grief because they have to make analog decisions. The first is what to do with the body. Then there are all the possessions—some weighted with meaning, happy memories or sad, but mostly it’s just a lot of stuff, and you have to figure out what to do with it.

We landed at Burbank Airport at 6:30pm that same day.

Death is analog, but over the 10 days I was in Los Angeles part of me kept noticing how digital tools helped us to manage numberless abrupt unwelcome choices, some short term, some long.

I created a Google Spreadsheet to track and categorize everything.

On Sunday, I wrote my brother’s obituary on my laptop. The family edited it. We scanned a photo of my brother as a young man, then my wife uploaded it all to the Los Angeles Times website to run in Tuesday’s physical paper and on in perpetuity.

We are culturally Jewish but not religious, so we decided to have the Memorial at my parents’ home instead of a mausoleum. Without a rabbi who knew Evan, I took on performing the service. “Can you handle it?” Mom asked. “It’s the last thing I can do for my brother,” I replied.

I had created a new email address for the Memorial on one of my domains and included it in the obituary so people could let us know if they were coming.

We wanted a running slideshow of Evan’s life at the Memorial and found photos in our phones and computers. Dad and my daughter figured out how to run the slideshow on the Family Room TV via a Roku box. My wife pulled physical photos out of albums and used her iPhone to capture them and add them to the slideshow.

Death is analog, but over the 10 days I was in Los Angeles part of me kept noticing how digital tools helped us to manage numberless abrupt unwelcome choices, some short term, some long.

I posted the obituary on Facebook. Hundreds of friends responded. Many who knew Evan shared memories. Some friends emailed or texted me directly. One friend called.

I’ve given many eulogies. Each time I speak for the dead I try to capture what made the person unique. An old person dying is sad but sometimes not tragic after a long life. Parents burying a child is always tragic because it’s an indigestible reversal of what should be, out of joint.

My brother’s life and early death were too complicated for a linear path, so I wound up using Scrivener, which is a combination word processor and project management tool I use for bigger projects. Scrivener has a digital cork board where I could dump and clump, dragging virtual index cards around my screen and coaxing the Memorial into coherence: who would speak and in what order?

Our digital tools help us to organize information, to make sense. Digital technologies reduce everything to ones and zeros. But emotion is analog. Grief is analog.

Death is analog because it cannot be reduced to anything else. Death doesn’t make sense. When somebody dies, the universe shifts around a new absence, only settling into another shape with time. That’s why we have funerals and wakes. People come to lend their presence to witness a new absence because that’s all they can do.

In 2020, during the worst of COVID lockdown, my aunt Marlene died. We couldn’t travel to the funeral, watching it on Zoom, unable to lend comfort, to be present.

Evan’s Memorial was different.

Flowers and food surged into the house. The phone rang and rang. Mom thought it would be a small gathering, but RSVPs mounted via email, text, and call. I added a “people we know are coming” tab to the spreadsheet.

My wife arranged for food to be delivered to the Memorial. Dad and my son set up a microphone and speaker in the backyard. Rented tables and chairs arrived.

I managed not to cry as I did the Memorial. Barely. I said, “Evan would have loved this: all his favorite people, talking about him, and a mountain of food from Brent’s Deli, one of his favorite places… What’s not to love?”

Ninety people were in the house that day, hugging, talking, eating, sharing stories, laughing, reconnecting. People from every phase of our lives and Evan’s life came. Even people who had never met my brother came to support us.

People watched every slide.

Many lingered. Two cousins kept trying to leave for hours but got pulled back into conversation and the high gravity of old photo albums.

Death is analog. So are Memorials.

Goodbye, Evan. I’ll miss you.


Brad Berens is the Center’s strategic advisor and a senior research fellow. He is principal at Big Digital Idea Consulting. You can learn more about Brad at, follow him on Post and/or LinkedIn, and subscribe to his weekly newsletter (only some of his columns are syndicated here).


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September 29, 2023