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It’s been rather a mournful week one way or another, and I’ve been thinking of melancholy things.

Last week, I received the annual automated email reminding me of a friend’s birthday. My friend died a few years ago, but I can’t bring myself to turn off the notifications.  They arrive in my mailbox year on year, complete with the same silly joke he made, and I almost love that remembrance of his personality, his spark.

He would have been thirty on Monday.  (Consider donating to Cancer Research here).

I also logged into FriendsReunited recently. It’s probably been about a year and a half since I was last there, and I was greeted by an update about an old school classmate I know to be dead.

Because I have no more sense than to fill my head with morbid thoughts, I fell to pondering this…

What will happen to our online identities when our physical ones are gone?

It occurred to me that no one else on the planet has the locations of the profiles, passwords or identities I employ on the net.  This information is stored only in my head, and I would imagine I’m not alone in this.  Has it ever occurred to you to say to your best beloved,

“Dearest, in the event of my death, you’ll probably want to close down my Tumblr / Friendfeed / Bebo account. I’d so hate for you to be searching the internet and stumble over something upsetting to remind you of your loss in a moment of vulnerability. My master key is…”

Of course not!  You’ve not even made a will, for the love of god. You find income tax a terrifying struggle. But we will all have to start to consider this, as online property becomes increasingly valuable and our sense of our identity on the web becomes less a fad and more a simple necessity, a requirement for modern living.

Will our estates have to appoint a digital executor to trawl the web deleting our accounts; untagging our photographs; searching out long unused blogs and unfriending our connections?

Or will they remain, these digital ghost ships, drifting through cyberspace, haunting the web forever?

7 thoughts on “Ghosts of the Cyber Dead

  1. What a great post. I think it would be best to let the person live on, ghost in the machine if you like because the opportunity we have to re-visit what they did whilst they were around.
    On a practical note, try 1Password (iphone & Mac) to hold your passwords – one stop password program which collects them as you go and stores them away from the browser.

  2. Great post, this seems to be the topic of discussion at the moment. I suppose as more and more of our daily tasks incorporate online activities it will be something that many of us will have to deal with.
    I wrote about the same thing last week.
    http://bit.ly/jkqwr
    I will watch to see what feedback you get as I think this will be a continuing discussion.

  3. There was a service I heard about this week which I thought was really interesting. Deathswitch, http://www.deathswitch.com/, or ‘information insurance’ advises a pre-nominated recipient of login details in the event of your death. Morbid, but worth thinking about…

  4. Pingback: SociallyCubed» Blog Archive » When you pass on, what happens to your Digital Self

  5. As morbid as it sounds I have a folder named Unfortunate Inevitable on my computer which is also on a USB key. Selected family members have been told of it, within contain documents detailing where my online presence is and what to do with each account. It’s my wish for photographs and written content to stay wherever feasible and different instructions are given for other places and also people to inform. Because I’m something of a planner inside is also smaller details such as songs to play and poem excerpts that I particularly treasure.

    Hopefully it won’t be needed for a long time however I’d like to think that it will be of some comfort and assistance when the Unfortunate Inevitable does occur.

  6. Pingback: Is there (digital) life after death? « A Dog’s Breakfast, part II

  7. I have to say that the idea of a Digital Executor is an absolutely brilliant idea, however morbid it may seem.

    Take into account the generations of people who are not so tech savvy, so if young folk pass away, generally their parents wouldn’t even know where to begin with this sort of thing and friends just don’t have access to passwords and such.

    This would make for one amazing business, like a trust account that is released / accessed upon your passing that contains the necessary information for archiving / closing your various web presences.

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