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The Prosumption of Commemoration : Disasters, Digital Memory Banks, and Online Collective Memory

Recuber, Timothy
Internet, disasters, hurricanes, memory, monuments, politics, therapeutics
The Internet has created innumerable possibilities for the construction of memorials devoted to tragic or catastrophic events and the exercise of collective memory. Two recent American disasters, the September 11, 2001 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, have been widely commemorated and memorialized online. This article examines the nature of online disaster commemoration through an analysis of the messages and stories submitted to two digital archives devoted to these disasters: the September 11 Digital Archive and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. By viewing these online archives as sites of prosumption, inasmuch as the sites’ users both produce and consume its content, the article is able to tease out connections to other prosumer-oriented trends surrounding commemoration and collective memory in the physical landscape. These trends include the increasing popularity of spontaneous shrines and the growing acceptance of therapeutic monuments. These two forms of prosumption also manifest themselves online in the digital memory banks studied here, in that they allow a wide variety of different users to contribute to the commemoration of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina in ways that often seek to enact a kind of therapeutic self-help and emotional catharsis. However, an analysis of the messages and stories left at these archives also points to some of the political limitations of such therapeutic forms of prosumption.