digital afterlife

How to Automate your Digital Afterlife

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?

The Digital Beyond is a niche website from the UK that lists all the services you may need for securing your digital content when you pass away. For highlights, see our Automation Software page.


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?




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Introvert on social media

An introvert’s view of social media

Using social media is an extroverted activity. Voicing your opinion on Twitter, posting a photo on Facebook and concocting a self-advertising post on Linked in all takes some degree of confidence. You are exposing the little Avatar of yourself to the outside world – to people you may know, but more often don’t know. There’s something very self-conscious about it. All social media users are essentially selling a product, or themselves. As an app developer I’ve needed to post about my new apps and discounts to a public that I don’t know, and get very little feedback from. I don’t enjoy selling. I enjoy making.

I think all human beings need feedback from other humans in person, so the digital space often leaves us feeling empty – like isolated beings in outer space, desperate for others to pick up our radio signal. But sometimes all we hear is our own echo. 


So how do I use social media? Cautiously, and with trepidation.. As a British introvert, I consider myself a double introvert. We Brits find it hard to sell ourselves because, as a culture we find it uncool to boast about one’s achievements, and this is a problem when social media requires a double effort to be heard. If you’re only a digital hologram you’re transparent for a start, and you have no tone of voice, smell or charisma: all you have is a bunch of text and pictures to get your message across.


Peering over the wall 

I actually get a burst of fear as I open Facebook, which feels to me like a Pandora’s box full of faces all jostling for love, admiration and attention at the same time. I can almost hear the sound of real noise coming from my avatar friends, who are jostling for attention. To visualise it, it is like peering over a wall, overlooking a bustling Hollywood pool party. Everyone’s at their best and super confident. I hope not to be seen, but I cling there in an addicted trance, browsing the list of my most extroverted friends projecting perfect world syndrome until I can take no more of the clamour and close the app to make it all vanish.


An introvert’s view of social media


The social networks all have a different feel to them. Twitter is a like a tech party on a swanky high rise building full of cutting edge cool people who make me feel a bit out of place. Do I belong here? Am I clever enough to join in the conversation? Instagram is an easier ride, since it’s a vanity contest full of equally self centred narcissists who don’t know each other. Surely no one can be jealous of strangers can they? Apparently yes, and especially for insecure teenagers who are getting a distorted version of reality at an early age. 

Essena O’Neill, an Australian teenager with over 500,000 Instagram followers has bravely quit the platform, describing it as “contrived perfection made to get attention”, and called for others to quit social media. On 27 October she deleted more than 2,000 pictures “that served no real purpose other than self-promotion”, and dramatically edited the captions to the remaining 96 posts in a bid to to reveal the manipulation, mundanity, and even insecurity behind them.


“Anyone addicted to social media fame like I once was, is not in a conscious state.” – Essena O’Neil

But can you really blame Instagram for the culture that it created? I think not. The company created a great photography tool, but at the end of the day it’s how people use it that’s shallow, false and empty.  A photographer made a great spoof of the site called Socality Barbie.


I realise the only time I post now is if I’m travelling and have some exotic landscapes to share. Since I feel they must be special enough to be ‘worth’ posting, then I can bare to reveal myself for this short period before dropping down from the wall again for a few weeks or months.

When I need to promote myself for work or tell people about my products I use a ‘hit and run’ approach. A few quick posts here and there. That should do it. But don’t expect me to hang around for a ‘like count’ or a conversation. Sorry, I prefer the real thing.  

If you feel that you fall into the introvert category, although no one can be fully introvert or extrovert, watch Susan Cain’s TED talk on the Power of Introverts. She believes Introversion is about how you respond to stimulation. “Extroverts crave large amounts of stimulation, while introverts feel more alive, switched on and more capable when they are in a low key environment.” 


What the social networks have proved is that humans are social animals and need to express themselves. We need to communicate in some way and be heard. Why am I writing this Blog after all? Even introverts need an outlet of some sort. Perhaps the answer is even simpler. As Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons simply puts it: “we do everything to be loved.”

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