Death Over Dinner is another let’s have dinner and talk about death movement like the Death Cafe. The introduction by the founder, Michael Hebb, begins:
On a beautiful June morning in 2012 I boarded a train traveling from Portland to Seattle, and quickly made my way to the dining car. Within a few minutes I found myself in a lively conversation with two strangers, both doctors, and both very concerned about the state of our health care system. What I learned during that conversation was shocking, and the statistic that broke my heart was this:
Nearly 75% of Americans want to die at home, yet only 25% of them do.
I asked the doctors: Do you think that how we end our lives is the most important and costly conversation America is not having?
They said: Absolutely.
And then I asked them this: If I helped create a national campaign called “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” did they think I would find support from doctors, patients, essentially everyone?
They said: Absolutely. You must do this!
One month later he and his graduate students in Communications at the University of Washington had signed up over 30 of the country’s healthcare and wellness leaders as Advisors and TEDMED had asked them to take the main stage at their prestigious conference.
His bio on the TEDMED site is very detailed and interesting. He has been hosting dinners on serious topics since 1997. He was described by the New York Times as an “underground restaurateur, impresario and provocateur.” He believes that the dinner table is one of the most effective (and overlooked) vehicles for changing the world.
Michael’s creative agency One Pot specializes in the technology of the common table, seeking to shift culture by using thoughtful food and discourse-based engagements and happenings. One Pot has worked closely with thought leaders and cultural leaders and many preeminent foundations an institutions including the Republic of Gabon, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, the X Prize Foundation, the FEED Foundation, Architecture For Humanity, and the Summit Series.
The dinner table is the most forgiving place for difficult conversation. The ritual of breaking bread creates warmth and connection, and puts us in touch with our humanity. It offers an environment that is more suitable than the usual places we discuss end of life.
Frustrating Website — Not a Model to Follow
The Death Over Dinner website is incredibly frustrating. It is described as “an interactive digital platform linking UW masters program students with many national healthcare leaders.” What?
If you use the link on the front page that says, “Get Started” you end up in a long string of screens that force you to make choices from menus about what you want to read, which video you want to watch, and which questions you want to ask. You make random choices to go to the next screen hoping for information. When you’ve gone through a seemingly endless number of screens, however, you are asked to sign up and then wait for a confirmation email that is not instant. You wait because you want to enter the site and actually read something about death dinners.
When the email arrives, the information that you randomly selected is included in the body of an email that is in the form of a letter. You are supposed to use this letter to invite your friends to a death dinner. It is complete with homework. All that stuff I selected are things my guests are assigned to read and watch before coming to dinner. Educated and ready to talk.
Incredibly dumb in my opinion. I tried but I couldn’t even read the email. Who talks this way to their friends:
I would be honored if you would take the time to join me and [a few guests (or) add specific names] for dinner and to engage in this conversation. The folks at www.deathoverdinner.org have created a series of three thoughtful conversational prompts for us to explore.
And there is no place to confirm anything. When you go back to the site, if you want to subscribe, you have to register again. And I suspect confirm again. I didn’t try it.
While I waited for the email I finally found the blog. The link is hidden in tiny symbols in the upper right hand corner. A tweet symbol, an envelope, a Facebook symbol, and, oh yes, three parallel lines. That’s the blog. For your benefit, here is the link to the blog:
Finally at the blog, apparently the only information on the site, you are greeted by the usual (and welcome) list of summaries of blog posts. Well enough, until you click through on one. I clicked through on How Doctors Die and was greeted by the same summary. When I clicked the “Keep reading here” link to get to the full post I was instead sent with no warning the New York Times to read an article called How Doctors Die: Showing Others the Way.
A website design that is an example of a noble idea gone awry when implemented by communications majors. The site is beautiful visually but a classic example of incredibly low usability. It reminds me of a Miss Manners request: Could we stop communicating and have a conversation?