Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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Spot Message helps you communicate with loved ones beyond the grave

Spot Message helps you communicate with loved ones beyond the grave

I’ve only been to one funeral in my entire life. It was for my stepdad’s grandmother, who was very old at the time of her passing. I never met her while she was alive—she was far too frail to attend our large family gatherings—but I always heard pleasant things about her. My grandpa once told me about how she kept everyone together during the family’s grueling immigration process in the 1950s as they relocated from China to the United States, and how they even had to live apart from her husband for an entire year.

Spot Message shows the distance you need to travel to receive a prerecorded message, in more precise measurements than Pokemon Go's Pokemon locating.
Spot Message shows the distance you need to travel to receive a prerecorded message, with more precise measurements than Pokemon Go‘s Pokemon locating.

It still stands that I never personally knew her nor my great grandfather. They exist to me only in stories passed down, like my stepdad’s memories of his grandfather painting in his art studio. Despite never knowing them, I feel indebted to my elders for taking the risk of migrating westward and providing the grandiose family that I now know and love with opportunities to flourish. They became the biggest family I’ve ever known, where I barely had anyone else aside from my mom and a couple grandparents prior. My stepdad in particular has been more of a dad to me than my birth father ever was. I’d appreciate the opportunity to thank the two great grandparents that safely brought my family here, even if I never personally knew them, just to show my gratitude them all the same. And now, there’s an app to help with that bond. Sorta.

Planting retrievable messages from deceased at real-life locations

Introducing Spot Message, a Japanese app developed by Yoshiyuki Katori, the president of the tombstone company Ryoshin Sekizai. Spot Message seems eerie in theory, but is pretty heartfelt in practice. The app gives people the opportunity to prerecord video messages or load photos for loved ones using augmented reality, planting retrievable messages from deceased at real-life locations, such as impending graves, or to other places beloved to them.

There are unavoidable similarities to Pokemon Go, but in Spot Message, the user is catching messages from the dearly departed, not nabbing resting Snorlaxes. “I wondered how comforting it would be if [my uncle] could talk to me at his grave, with messages like ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘Hang in there,’” Katori told The Japan Times. The death of Katori’s uncle inspired the app, though he insists that Spot Message can be used for less dreary purposes as well, such as a video of a proposal to be shared on a couples’ wedding anniversary.

spot message
A mock-up from Spot Message of the app’s potential AR capabilities.

I only learned the story of how my family immigrated to the United States through an interview I did with my grandpa for a school assignment. Afterwards, I felt ashamed that I had never asked about their story before. “We were the lucky ones,” my grandpa told me. All I really knew before was that my great grandfather was an artist and a teacher; my great grandmother’s father was a Presbyterian church minister, almost unheard of in the mostly Confucian China of the time. If Spot Message were around before they passed, I doubt I would find any messages from them—after all, they didn’t know me—but for my grandpa and his many siblings, hearing from their parents one last time would be comforting. They’d say thank you for their sacrifices. And from far off, so would I.

You can read more about Spot Message on the app’s website (in Japanese, at least). It’s available on now on Android and will be available for iPhone at the end of September.

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