A Video-Enhanced Grave Marker (VEGM) is a Western-style tombstone, with technological advances attached. Through sound and video, VEGMs would, in theory, make visits to graveyards an interactive experience. This idea is very similar to the 1981 science fiction short story Walpurgisnacht by Roger Zelazny, and the forward in the 1983 collection Unicorn Variations mentions an unexpected contemporary invention of a 'talking tombstone'. The 2004 film The Final Cut also features a similar idea, video-enhanced tombstones which play recordings extracted from memory chips implanted in the brain of the departed.
The VEGM, invented by Robert Barrows of San Mateo, California, would allow its owner to record messages to be played to loved ones or to any visitor to the site with a remote control. The stones would be equipped with weatherproofed video playback and recording devices plus memory systems and a television monitor placed within a weather-proofed, hollowed-out headstone. As of May 2005, Barrows estimated that the costs of the VEGMs might start at about USD$8000 to $10,000 depending on the size and shape of the tombstones and the cost of the electronics one might want to put in it. was issued on The Video Enhanced Gravemarker on August 8, 2006. Barrows commented soon after its invention: "I envision being able to walk through a cemetery using a remote control, clicking on graves and what all the people buried there have to say. They can say all the things they didn't have the opportunity or guts to say when they were alive."
It is presumed by critics of the concept that some cemetery managers would be opposed to the "noisy" displays. People living in the surrounding neighbourhood as well as other visitors to the cemeteries may be disturbed by the constant sound. However, audio can also be transmitted to wireless headsets which one might get or rent from the cemetery's office. Also, the VEGMs would be likely targets of thieves or vandals. (Barrows adds, "There are very strict laws against vandalizing tombstones, and if you are going to vandalize a tombstone, you'd better hope there are no such things as ghosts.")
The issue of censorship would likely be of concern with VEGMs. How high a level of free speech would be offered to the eventually deceased has not been announced and could vary from site to site.
Robert Barrows is also the author of a forthcoming novel called "Cemetery of Lies," which is a collection of intimate secret confessions as told from beyond the grave through video tombstones.