What happens to our digital lives after death?
Our online identities grow every day, but when we leave this life, what happens to the online ghost we leave behind? Should we leave a digital legacy to our loved ones, and if so, is it worth paying for this privilege?
Every minute 48 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube. Every day, 200 million tweets are tweeted. Every month 7.5 billion photos are posted on Facebook. Where does it all go when we pass on?
It certainly doesn’t die with us, although many might wish it did. When living, it’s difficult to eradicate yourself from Facebook completely. But after death Facebook allows pages to either be shut down or “memorialised”. This turns the page into a form of shrine where friends can share memories.
But what about everything else we leave online: the emails stored in our webmail accounts and our photos saved in the cloud? Should they die with us, or should we pass them on for someone else to enjoy?
Data worth passing on?
It’s a bit like the contents of someone’s loft when they’ve passed away. It seems a shame to destroy all the documents hoarded over the years, but few are ever likely to be worth holding on to.
So what are our options? Do we part with our passwords on our deathbeds, or do we write them into our wills? The former isn’t exactly what most of us would like our final words to be, and the latter is hardly a viable solution if our passwords are regularly updated.
A service called iCroak has offered a solution, where cloud-based personal information is stored privately during life, and then handed on to a single nominated guardian after death.
The £10-a-year service allows information to be fragmented into that which is passed on and that which remains forever private, even after your death. But, as far as I’m concerned, there’s little value in passing anything digital on, and I’m yet to be sold on the service’s benefits.
Data after death
The computing data company Rackspace has calculated that a quarter of us have around £200 worth of data saved in the cloud, which seems like an awful lot to me. Even if I uploaded all my photos to the cloud, I’m not sure anyone would value them at £200. Perhaps the estimation includes the value of downloaded films and music, but would anyone be interested in inheriting their nearest and dearest’s iTunes library?
Some could argue that access to emails might help tie up loose ends – such as memberships, bill payments and correspondence, but I wouldn’t wish the barrage of junk mail I receive on my worst enemy, let alone my loved ones.
And while it would be a treat to come across handwritten 50-year-old love letters between my grandparents, I don’t think a “love email” would hold the same sentimental value.
In the modern world we need to think about our virtual identities almost as much as our physical lives, and as more and more of us become connected, these online lives are only going to grow. It’s already changed the way we look at our lives and it’s beginning to change the way we look at death. I don’t think, however, that questions surrounding my Facebook profile or my Amazon wish list will bother me or my family too much when my time comes.
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