Digital After Death

  • January 18, 2011
  • Helen Murphy

The topics of digital assets and digital life after death fascinate me.  Think about it – as our lives become increasingly digital (Facebook profiles, blogs, Flickr accounts) the question of what happens to our digital stuff after we die becomes increasingly important.

Our photographs are no longer printed and pasted in scrapbooks but rather hosted on online photo sharing sites.  Videos are uploaded to YouTube rather than recorded to DVD.  Blogs and Facebook profiles have taken the place of journals and letters.

What happens to all of this after we die?  Will parents and siblings be able to access and record for posterity or will the content be lost in the ever-expanding realm of cyberspace?

In the past few months, I’ve seen a number of stories related to this topic including a piece by NPR’s All Tech Considered host, Omar Gallaga, about the book “Your Digital Afterlife,” an NPR interview with the authors of the above mentioned book and, most recently, an exhaustive New York Times article outlining the complexities of bequeathing your digital self to your loved ones.

All stories agree that estate law on this topic is still murky.  All stories also cite a number of interesting businesses that are already trying to monetize this issue. (Virtual Eternity allows users to create an intelligent avatar of them to leave behind for family members to interact with. I wonder if you have to feed them like a Tomagotchi?) Finally, all contributors agree that it is important to have an offline backup for your important things like photographs and blog entries and to bequeath someone you trust your online passwords so he or she can take care of things after you’re gone.

My digital assets consist of my Facebook page, my Twitter account and two rarely updated blogs. Not much in the grand scheme of things.  But what about those with content rich blogs, Flickr streams full of years of memories and thousands of Twitter friends?  The importance of leaving behind instructions for taking care of your digital self seems more important when you live a lot of your life online.

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