Friday, June 20, 2008

Newbie Ponders Digital Life After Death

Never before in human history has communication been so widely enabled. There are so many communication tools available to us these days, it can be overwhelming. Most of my friends and collegues have profiles on multiple social media platforms -- Twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace; most have a blog or more than one; most have more than one email address (gmail, hotmail, work email) and two or more phones (home, office, cell). Many even have multiple cell phones. Some even use the post office to send old-fashioned greetings using pen on paper or cardstock.

As human communication tools have evolved and multiplied, so too has the social infrastructure to maintain them, the apparatus that allows the government to be aware of your whereabouts. When you move or change service providers, there are clear and organized methods for communicating this change of address, phone, etc to those who need to know. Also, when someone dies, there's paperwork filled out by the next of kin or executor that indicates what is no longer valid, or the change in ownership of certain contact points -- address, phone number, cell phone account -- that typically pass to the next of kin or executor. But there's no official way to communicate this change of status to our digital selves.

A very close friend of mine passed away two years ago, after a long, brave battle against breast cancer. She's gone, but her hotmail, her blog, and her facebook page are all still alive. Her next of kin (her mother) and her executor (her partner) don't know what her passwords were, and there are no clear tools for communicating to the authorities in charge of those online properties that these accounts should be legitimately deleted on her behalf, or ownership of the accounts passed to those who might be in a position to update her status.

So where are the infrastructure tools for tracking our digital lives, and deaths? We all talk a lot about managing your personal brand or brands online, which is all well and good if you're alive to do it. But who manages your personal brand after your death? Have you planned who is going to update your multiple online personas and profiles? Have you communicated your passwords and login info to your next of kin or executor?

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