Monday, June 1, 2009

Digital afterlife

Digital technology is changing just about everything we do, including death.

It used to be more simple. One died, then according to one's will, family took possession of what remained and kept or destroyed journals and pictures accordingly. Obituaries were in the local newspaper and sympathy cards were mailed. The digital world has altered it all and created many new legal questions that are yet to be resolved.

For one, what happens to all your email and online accounts? Unless specified in your will then it really depends. If family members know your passwords, they may be able to sift through and even keep things like your facebook page and twitter accounts "alive" after you are gone. In fact, some use these accounts as a place for virtual mourning. People can post condolences on facebook pages, post pictures in remembrance, etc. A digital memorial may ensue.


Here's an example of a facebook memorial. This example is of a specific memorial created as a group after this person died. People join and leave comments of condolence. The other way memorials are created are when people leave messages on the deceased profile page. What many find different in the way of typical condolences is that people then address the deceased personally. These few examples are from an 18 year old girl who died in March of this year in Colorado Springs:

"I hope alls well up there. we're gonna miss you an awful lot down here."
"I walked into church today and thought I saw you walking across the foyer. Just so you know, there's a girl that looks so much like you it's insane."
"hey girl hey. so this morning I had the horror (or pleasure?) of waking up to a giant bushy squirrel. ... obviously I thought of you and our mutual squirrel obsession."


If this makes you a bit squeamish with uncertainty, there are new companies out now to help sort through the thorny issues of digital afterlife.

Legacy Locker was created this year as a "safe and secure way to pass your online accounts to your friends and loved ones". For a small fee you can assign what you want done with your digital property. You can store passwords to favorite accounts and designate what you want done with these after you die.

As for digital memorials, well known site Legacy.com has a large market. For a small fee, you can create a digital legacy, with photos and video, a link to the paper obituary and even a guest book for friends to sign. Of course, to keep it up and online, you must continue to pay a fee each year. The site has some online current examples here.

Mylastemail.com has combined the ideas of legacy locker with legacy.com by allowing the person themselves to pre-design their own memorial. They offer a way to store financial and legal papers on line, as well as upload photos and videos. You get to write your own story and then you choose who gets invited to open this lock box of goodies after you die. With this service, once you die, no one can change what you've already uploaded and designed. The site guarantees staying in existence at least 25 years after you die.

One thing is certain, this is just the beginning. If you thought the term "digital afterlife" was a novelty, just wait a few years and see where things are!




8 Responses to “Digital afterlife”

Anonymous said...
June 2, 2009 at 1:19 PM

After a friend committed suicide in 2006, her facebook profile was kept up and people used it as a way to share their feelings about her tragic death. My first impression was that it was a little morbid, but later I realized it was a way for us all to cope with her loss.


geriatricare said...
July 9, 2009 at 6:51 AM

Just recently an old friend got into a serious caraccident. After about a week in ICU the treatment was stopped and he died. (as far as one was 'alive' in his condition)

He used to play bassguitar in a band, of which the guestbook on their website started to act as a way for people to tell the parents, his girlfriend and friends that people were thinking about them during the week in ICU and sending their condolences after his death.

On the cards that were send to people, the website was mentioned as the way for people to send their regards and condolences. This way, the parents didn't have to worry about all the reactions and had an 'easy' way of communicating their son's 'status' while he was in ICU.

I was really amazed by this use (that came into being quite automatically) of internet and websites considering a persons' death and dying.
It gave rise to a lot of heart warming comments and condolences, made it easy to give them and formed an easy-to-use (regarding functionality...) platform for the parents.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
August 25, 2009 at 9:17 PM

A very moving online memorial I found on one of my hobby sites (Board Game Geek) from a husband about his recently deceased wife, Roberta Lukes. They shared a love of board games and he wrote a 'Geek List' of games that they had played together that helped weave the story.

Look at the number of supportive comments from people who knew him and his wife and from complete strangers. These acts of support and kindness in online communities are very interesting to observe.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
June 14, 2010 at 9:20 AM

The Hong Kong government is now helping support online memorial sites from NYT.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
January 9, 2011 at 9:19 PM

Just recently posted at the NYT: Cyberspace When You’re Dead

It is a fantastic and in-depth article. A must read if you are interested in this topic.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM

Just recently posted at the NYT: Cyberspace When You’re Dead

It is a fantastic and in-depth article. A must read if you are interested in this topic.


geriatricare said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM

Just recently an old friend got into a serious caraccident. After about a week in ICU the treatment was stopped and he died. (as far as one was 'alive' in his condition)

He used to play bassguitar in a band, of which the guestbook on their website started to act as a way for people to tell the parents, his girlfriend and friends that people were thinking about them during the week in ICU and sending their condolences after his death.

On the cards that were send to people, the website was mentioned as the way for people to send their regards and condolences. This way, the parents didn't have to worry about all the reactions and had an 'easy' way of communicating their son's 'status' while he was in ICU.

I was really amazed by this use (that came into being quite automatically) of internet and websites considering a persons' death and dying.
It gave rise to a lot of heart warming comments and condolences, made it easy to give them and formed an easy-to-use (regarding functionality...) platform for the parents.


WorldWithoutMe.com said...
January 11, 2012 at 2:05 AM

Great article! Digital Afterlife is definitely becoming a hot topic of sorts. So many people on Facebook die each day and their profiles float around like digital ghosts. Making provisions to pass on your digital assets and online life to your heirs and loved ones is going to become a norm soon as more and more people realize that their digital loose ends need to be taken care of. Not only this but memories from one's online profiles would want to be preserved by family and friends. Digital estate planning sites are a great way to ensure your digital legacy is passed on according to your wishes.