Have you ever given thought to what happens to our online presence after we die? We will leave digital fragments of ourselves all over the internet. Think of the number of online accounts we sign up to on a weekly basis and the media we push daily to the social networks. It’s not something our forefathers had to worry about, but the internet age will continue to update us into uncharted territory.
I’ve noticed the growing trend of people who post childhood pictures of themselves on Facebook. Is this a subconscious way of trying to preserve an immortal digital memory of ourselves?
Why does it matter?
This issue of our digital afterlife is particularly acute if you make creative content and would like your digital legacy to continue. If you sell your designs, apps or music for instance, you might want your content to be available after your death, in order to continue to gain royalties or at least give people the benefit of enjoying your work. However, the issue is that our content is being hosted by companies (such as Apple) who require a yearly membership. With all the various passwords and logins we have, one would need a friend or family member to gain access to your media, in order to keep it alive.
Entrust a friend or relative to manage your content
Whether the entrusted friend or family member would want this administrative burden is another thing though! The other issue I’ve thought about is the question of how long your content will even last, given the pace of technology change. Take the Apps market for example – apps need to be updated to be able to run on the latest devices. There is no way I can expect a friend of relative to be able to update one of my apps. Plus, the online portals and processes we learn are so specific and fiddly (and they constantly change), that I would rule this possibility out. Keeping my app collection ‘as is’ might give it 5 years of life, and that’s very optimistic.
There are some things you can do. It’s a matter of thinking about the bigger picture, so that as an individual content creator, you are pass over your content to a bigger entity. That doesn’t mean giving away exclusive rights though. There are now many marketing platforms that can host your media for you, so that they do the selling, and you take a lesser cut. I partnered with Fingerprint Digital, a kids app platform in San Fransisco, who host duplicate versions of my apps under their brand. They recently made a deal to select app content for the US library network, and this has been great. I could resell my apps on locked down, pre-loaded devices. I also continue to share my icons on The Noun Project under a creative commons license, and receive a small royalty stream from paying members.
What is the shelf life of media?
Media formats come and go with the times – look what happened to floppy disks, Beetamax, then VHS, CDs and now DVDs. We have moved to a digital format, and let’s hope that this sticks. If your end format is an image (JPG, PNG etc) this should be good for a while. Wavs and Mp3 music files should also fare well. Video is pretty solid, but with all the different codecs and increasing resolution, your 1080P video may look great now, but is likely to look crummy in a short time, since 4K is now on the scene. Or will it have the vintage cool effect that Super 8 has now? Software and apps will have the shortest shelf life – code and operating systems are always progressing.
Use an afterlife service to manage your online legacy
Even if you don’t sell creative digital content, you might want to keep your personal photos, videos and messages alive. After death, Facebook will lock your account, so that it can no longer be accessed by family members. So what can you do?
Heavenote – another British startup (why are the British so obsessed with death? Surely there are some Swedish or Danish companies doing this)
This article was inspired by Caroline Twigg’s very moving Guardian article What happens to my late husband’s digital life now he’s gone?