Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Web Secret #143: Death in Cyberspace

In 1982, writer William Gibson first coined the term "cyberspace" in a short story entitled "Burning Chrome."

Almost 30 years have passed, and more and more of our lives are spent, displayed, and written in that technological ether.

So, as we increasingly scatter ourselves across Facebook, websites, blogs, and more - what should happen to all this digital "stuff" when we die?
Should it be preserved? Deleted?

Does it even matter?

In a recent article, the New York Times engaged in an exhaustive exploration of what happened to a young blogger's cyberlife when he passed away unexpectedly at age 34. The article was kind of overwhelming, both intellectually and emotionally, but I did manage to distill a few essential questions and resources to consider:
  • - this is probably the mother website for this topic. It covers everything from Twitter's policy for deceased users, to asking "What do you want to happen to your Facebook profile after you die?," to excerpting the book "Your Digital Afterlife." Their advice? Everyone needs a "digital executor". Discuss.
  • Inevitably someone is blogging about this topic. Enter Sample posts: how to "Download Your Content From Facebook" - "This will be tremendously helpful to those who are struggling with the online accounts of a departed loved one."
  • Sitesucker - a must for any digital undertaker is this website that literally copies entire websites to your local hard drive for cyber embalming purposes. Sorry PC users, for the time being you are out of luck.
  • Wait! There must be someway to make a buck on this trend? Of course there is: Allegedly, around 10,000 people have signed up for Legacy Locker's "safe, secure repository for your vital digital property that lets you grant access to online assets to friends and loved ones in the event of loss, death, or disability."
  • Or maybe check out this free service, "Entrustet". "What will happen to your digital assets after you're gone? Make your decisions today with Entrustet."
  • Are you getting freaked out yet? Cue The Twilight Zone theme:

    and visit Lifenaut allows anyone to create a free back-up of their mind via a database of personal reflections captured in video, image, audio and documents. "Each account comes with an interactive Avatar that becomes more intelligent as you add more information to your Mindfile."
  • The coup de grace - pardon the pun, has to be, an automated system that prompts you to make sure you are still alive. If you don't respond, the assumption is that you are dead and pre-scipted messages are automatically sent to those designated by you.
Until Walt Disney's head is reanimated, I guess this is our only path towards immortality...

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