The Online Afterlife

How long will your ghost of tweets-past haunt cyberspace?
by Staff, Utne Reader
March-April 2011
Add to My MSN

Blair Kelly / www.blairkellystudio.com


Content Tools

Related Content

ProPublica Launches, Reporters Swoon

ProPublica, a new online hub of investigative journalism, launched earlier this week to great media-...

Why People Age, and Why We Should

When people get old, their eyesight and hearing start diminish, muscles quit working, and their bodi...

How to Preserve Your Virtual Soul

After you die, what happens to your online life? A digital death industry wants to wrap up your elec...

From the Stacks: Time Enough At Last

A.J. Michel’s new zine, Time Enough At Last, offers its readers sassy but straightforward reading re...

The Library of Congress’ recent announcement that it intends to stockpile every last spasm of consciousness ever tapped into the Twitter void seemed like a curious allocation of resources for one of our greatest cultural archives.  

Yet even without the Library of Congress’ ambitious Twitter archive, the Internet offers plenty of opportunities for a sort of online immortality. Whether or not you regard that as a good thing likely depends on the size of your ego and the nature of your Internet activities, but there’s little question that computer technology makes it easier than ever for even the most anonymous among us to leave a lasting document of our interests, activities, and ruminations.  

As NEEL, an unnamed U.S. software consultant, points out in India Currents (Sept. 2010), folks have always left behind personal archives in the form of diaries, correspondence, photographs, home movies, and other ephemera, but as anyone who has frequented estate sales or auctions could testify, much of this material tends to be lost or scattered with the passing of time. Now, however, with e-mail, blogs, file-sharing sites, and community spaces like Facebook, the record of our human interactions and passions has—at least for now—a permanent home even after we’re gone.  

As a result, NEEL says, by zealously tracking online trails and contributions, some interested future party could “fashion a deep narrative of a departed individual from his or her Internet history.”  

Online immortality depends, of course, on the continued preservation of all that data floating around in cyberspace, and on levels of security that protect our privacy while we’re alive. How, for instance, will future generations access our various accounts without passwords? And can that security be safeguarded even after we’re gone?  

Hotmail already allows users to order a CD of all the e-mails from a deceased person’s account, and Facebook pages may be converted to “memorial sites” when someone dies. There are also companies like Legacy Locker, BCelebrated, and MyWebwill, which offer assistance in accessing a dead person’s “online assets.”  

Should you find such prospects alarming, it’s probably never too early to begin crafting strategies to erase or at least safeguard your Internet legacy. Here’s an easy one for starters: Try using the delete key.

Cover-MA11-thumbnailThis article first appeared in the March-April 2011 issue of Utne Reader.








Post a comment below.

 

Matt Brown
3/14/2012 7:24:06 PM
I agree that it is important to preserve your legacy online. I recently used Your Tribute (http://www.yourtribute.com) to create a memorial for my Grandmother. They offer permanent online memorials which is one of the primary reasons I chose them. I hope that my Grandmother's memory will remain online forever for future generations to see.

Occum
4/29/2011 12:07:45 AM
Non of this concerns me since my computer is loaded with spyware, shareware, adware and underwear. By the time any page of significance loads I will be dead so long the newest galaxie of the time will have expired my forwarding address.








Pay Now & Save $5!
First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!