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The views and opinions expressed in our blog series are those of the authors and are not necessarily supported by CareSearch, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health.
Over the past two years, CareSearch has hosted Dying2Learn, a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about death and dying. We created the course hoping we could provide a community platform for open social discussion and connection on death, dying and palliative care – something that at times can be hard to strike up a conversation about in our day-to-day lives.
Australians are not well prepared for death and there are indications that many people are not comfortable talking about death. It may be that as medical advances have improved our life span we have become less familiar with death or that as our community has changed our rituals and practices for caring for the dying have also changed. The last few years have seen an increasing interest in ensuring that dying is recognised within the community. Death education, public health promoting palliative care, death cafes, and compassionate communities are just some of the ways that people are reclaiming an awareness of, and a responsibility for, death and dying.
The CareSearch team hosted a MOOC on death and dying (Dying2Learn) in 2016 with over 1,000 participants from 18 countries. The aim of the MOOC was to explore community attitudes in relation to death as a normal part of life, and to open conversations around death and dying. In week one participants were asked to look at language, and to ‘think of alternative words (or euphemisms) that are used to describe death’. We were surprised when we saw 471 participants providing 3,053 alternative words and posting blogs about language.
There are few human experiences that are truly universal and death is one of these. As individuals and as societies, we form an understanding of what death and dying is. And these views can be different between people, groups and countries. Our perceptions and attitudes are shaped by many things - our exposure to death, the realities of what causes deaths, how death is represented in our cultural artefacts such as films, novels, social media and art work, and by our societal, religious and spiritual beliefs and systems. As a community, Australia is often characterised as death denying. Many of us have a limited exposure to the realities of death and the dying process and confidence in the health and medical systems to keep us well and healthy.
I’ve always been interested in how technology is evolving and how it is affecting our personal and our working worlds. Technology has changed and is continuing to change how we access information, how we communicate, what we create and what we leave behind. So preparing a module on digital dying for our MOOC, Dying2Learn, gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore a number of different aspects of death and dying that have been influenced or changed by digital technologies.
Some things are immediately obvious. Digital technologies have changed much of health and there are now amazing avenues for assessment, treatment and research that were not available a generation ago. If you are interested in the big picture approach to digital health, I’d suggest you take a look at Ste Davies’ presentation 10 digital health trends for the next 20 years or check out The Medical Futurist, who likes to pose grand challenges for the digital world and transforming health.