A Clock That Reminds You You’re Going To Die

‘Memento mori’ technologies are grim, but maybe we need them

Clive Thompson
Published in
7 min readDec 12, 2021


Back in the ’90s, I was drinking in a pub in Galway, Ireland, and I met a guy who described an Irish order of nuns. They had a daily ritual: Every afternoon each nun would wander into the graveyard adjacent to the convent and dig a small scoop of what would become, in time, her own grave.

“After a few years, they’d start to have a decent indentation,” he told me, “and after a few decades they’d be pretty far down there, like five feet.” He took a long draw from a pitch-black pint of Guinness. “Doing that every day would clarify the mind, wouldn’t it?”

No doubt it would.

I never found out which convent he was talking about; he might have been making it up. But I’ve always chosen to believe the story is true, because it’s such a wonderfully intense example of a “memento mori” technique — a way of meditating, routinely, on the fact that you’ll one day die.

I thought of that old story today when I stumbled upon the clock above — the “Shortlife v2”, by the artist Dries Depoorter.

As Depoorter describes it…

A clock to remind you that life is short.

‘ShortLife’ is a small device showing how much percent of your life is completed based on your life expectancy.

The life expectancy is calculated based on average number in your country provided by the World Health Organization (WHO).

For €165, Depoorter will input your name, your gender (which you can leave unspecified if you prefer), and your country, and then he’ll send you a clock counting down to the age you will probably, statistically, reach.

I’m quite tickled by stuff like this. Philosophers have long argued that pondering your death — like, every day! — clarifies your priorities. As the stoic Marcus Aurelius wrote…

You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.

Modern digital technology is arguably perfect for creating memento-mori experiences, largely because computers are great at following routines. Humans aren’t. We might want to ponder, daily, that the flesh…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net