“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” – Banksy
If you are a sensible, organised type, you may have already made a will. You will have poured over the decision of how to divide your assets amongst your loved ones; that little pile of money you have stashed away, some property, some shares, maybe even a worthless, but much admired, collection of novelty moist towelettes…
but have you given any thought to your online assets?
The average Australian apparently spends around 39 hours a week online. Keeping in mind that I started using the Internet when I was around 17, if I maintain that national average up until the age of 85, I will have spent almost 16 years of my life surfing the Web! I will have sent tens of thousands of emails, logged countless Facebook status updates, been tagged in hundreds of photographs and have around eleventy billion different passwords for various online accounts (only around 15 of which I will actually remember!).
While you chew on that one, spare a thought for our youngest online citizens…
By the time they shuffle off the mortal coil, they may have lived their entire lives online – beginning with that 12 week scan image announcing their impending arrival, through to a very different kind of “Last Post”.
The Internet is a ball of contradictions: as immediate as it is permanent, as fragmented as it is searchable and as public as it is anonymous. Furthermore, as often as we hit the share button on our online experience, we would still consider much of the content we create as being, well, private!
Like the locked boxes of musty old letters and photographs our bewildered, grieving families were once likely to stumble upon in the attic, those 1s and 0s floating around in cyberspace hold many of our deepest secrets, lies and confessions.
We are so unguarded online – it is quite likely that there are plenty of those 1s and 0s that even we, ourselves, would sooner forget; “I was mad when I sent that email”, “I was drunk when they took that photo”, “I was young and stupid” we would cry in our own defence… only we won’t be able to.
And what of the data we actually wish to keep up there, or pass on? It is interesting to note that apparently only around 20% of us have given any thought to what will happen to our online assets when we die. This is certainly likely to increase as we realise what those left behind stand to lose. In the same way that the Web has made us all reporters in real time, we are also made historians as time passes. Many of the most important moments and milestones of our friends’ and families’ lives are immortalised on our Facebook or Instagram accounts.
The idea of losing total control of these virtual selves should give us pause. Upon your death, your Google-able self will live on in some kind of digital afterlife… one where no one will ever say your name for the last time.
Who do we trust to save our virtual souls?
Worry wart that I am, I personally could not imagine how we might begin to deal with this, the most modern of quandaries…
Luckily, some far more enterprising people already have!
There is now such a thing as a Digital Estate Planner. Increasing numbers of law firms are offering a service dedicated to storing and managing your “digital will” – a document outlining your wishes regarding the passwords etc that act as the keys to the safety deposit box of your online personal effects.
Google has done its bit to “make life easier for your loved ones after you’re gone” by launching ‘Inactive Account Manager’ – a setting which allows you to set up instructions for what to do with your data after your nominated period of inactivity (3, 6, 9 or 12 months).
1,600 Facebook users have already signed up for “if i die” – a handy app that sends out one last status update and allows you to nominate the “trustees” of your profile.
At the very least, it is probably sensible to compile a list of your online accounts, along with their passwords and your wishes regarding their future management. Of course, this document must be kept updated, in hard copy and in a secure place!
As morbid as all this may seem, I do believe that in the near future this will likely become an important part of “putting one’s affairs in order”. Clearly our online lives are important to us, or we wouldn’t spend so much time “living” them…
And if we’re going to be living them forever, making plans for our online future is probably worth doing.