Skip

The afterlife of your digital self.
January 5, 2011 2:39 PM   Subscribe


 
Cool article about an emerging topic. I was interviewed for the book they mention about the digital afterlife, on how I'm still keeping Brad Graham's sites alive by paying the hosting bill. Also nice to see a plug about Leslie Harpold, though her family saying her legacy is best kept offline still angers me. She put everything online, and while some lawyer in her family can say there wasn't an actual directive on what should happen, she certainly wouldn't have asked for all her domains and work to disappear.

It sucks that Leslie's thousands of fans and followers can't see her stuff anymore because a couple family members figured out they could legally remove it all from the online world (rumors are she published an essay here and there on a painful upbringing that mentioned family, and they'd rather not see that again ever).
posted by mathowie at 2:49 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


I met a girl.

And then she died (like, a week or two later).

That was 18 months ago?

There are posts to her Facebook page every week or so, since.
posted by effugas at 2:53 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Woah, this post (and the comments) is pretty... I don't want to say surreal, but interesting. The cryptic nature of the post, followed by the comments is interesting.
posted by delmoi at 2:57 PM on January 5, 2011


See also: Raiding Eternity.
posted by Zozo at 2:58 PM on January 5, 2011


I joined LinkedIn recently and the system suggested I connect with a young man I know to be long dead (may he rest in peace). I suddenly felt the chill hand of Keat's "The Living Hand":

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.


Too right it is, the same formerly warm outstretched hand now chilling. Especially since social networking has given dead men agency. There's no check box for "I know and validate the person's existence in time, but would rather not have the message in my inbox forever unsatisfied". I still don't know what to do with it, and so it remains a minor memorial.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:59 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


I just want somebody to switch my ichat status to 'Dead.'
posted by phaedon at 3:03 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know it's trivial, this part stood out for me, Avatars left behind in World of Warcraft or Second Life can have financial or intellectual-property holdings in those alternate realities. Just thinking about the situation where someone learns that their deceased relative has left them their 87th level Dwarf paladin kind of blows my mind.
posted by Panjandrum at 3:07 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I want my Facebook page to be ritually sacrificed and placed in the crypt with me, a la egyptian servants.
posted by BobFrapples at 3:07 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had ask about this very thing a few months ago in an AskMe. It may be of use here. I should note that my prognosis has since gotten a bit more hopeful.
posted by 0BloodyHell at 3:08 PM on January 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


I once used Picasa to tag old photos of relatives online. Somehow those names made it into my Google contacts list, and now they've been imported into my phone and a dozen other places.

So now whenever I'm looking someone up I scroll past the names of a dozen or so ancestors who died way before I was born. I keep wondering if one day the SMS or Facetime options will suddenly light up.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:19 PM on January 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


Can anyone tell me ten things do in cyberspace when you're dead?
posted by Bromius at 3:21 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Way back in the day, I helped build a roleplay oriented MUD with a group of friends I only knew online. We spent a few months hashing out the details of a virtual world, building it, decorating it with meticulously written scraps of text and hidden surprises. One of the team dropped off the face of the earth, and it was a week or so before we found out that she'd died.

Although te game eventually launched, large swaths of it that she'd worked on were locked off, unfinished. Her in-game avatar was left intact, sitting in a virtual chair in a workroom she'd made of pure text. If you looked at her, it noted that she'd been asleep for several months.
posted by verb at 3:21 PM on January 5, 2011 [14 favorites]



Well, I think you should have tagged this with SLNYT, but that's just my hhhhhhnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggg..........
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 3:25 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some departed friends have had their email and twitter accounts hijacked by spammers. While we fellow friends can share a chuckle at viagra ads from the beyond I wonder what the parents/significant others think when the familiar names pop into their inboxes.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 3:27 PM on January 5, 2011


I have already made arrangements to be buried with the equally deceased remains of my '90s-era Geocities page.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:32 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


their deceased relative has left them their 87th level Dwarf paladin

This poses more questions about inherited wealth - that paladin, or your Second Life avatar with direct access to millions in virtual real estate or a $15,000 per month virtual clothing empire, are now up for grabs to anyone who can get the password. The potential for abuse here by executors or site admins is enormous. Also, what happens when a tech-hating beneficiary is taxed for inheriting lucrative online properties they have no capability to use, or interest thereof?
posted by CynicalKnight at 3:32 PM on January 5, 2011


"Hey mom. I'm sorry I left without saying goodbye. Maybe some Lexapro would help. Click here for best prices!"
posted by phaedon at 3:35 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


> Well, I think you should have tagged this with SLNYT, but that's just my hhhhhhnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggg..........

"What?"
"That's just my hhhhhhnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggg.........."
"What, he's dead?"
"He must've died while typing it."
"Oh, come on!"
"Well that's what it says."
"Look, if he was dying he wouldn't bother to type "hhhhhhnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggg.........." He'd just say it."
"Well that's what it says in the post!"
"Perhaps someone hijacked his account."
"Oh, shut up."
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:40 PM on January 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


I died in 2004. This software just runs on a server somewhere and will maintain my online presence until the prepaid account runs out.
posted by briank at 3:45 PM on January 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


the christopher hundreds: Some departed friends have had their email and twitter accounts hijacked by spammers. While we fellow friends can share a chuckle at viagra ads from the beyond I wonder what the parents/significant others think when the familiar names pop into their inboxes.

It's a sign! A sign from beyond the barrier of death! A sign that I should, wait, what? Tom knows about our bedroom issues?

Panjandrum: I know it's trivial, this part stood out for me, Avatars left behind in World of Warcraft or Second Life can have financial or intellectual-property holdings in those alternate realities. Just thinking about the situation where someone learns that their deceased relative has left them their 87th level Dwarf paladin kind of blows my mind.

When my family last got together, there was some discussion of wills, as the adult children were all together with our parents. Somehow, I never though of willing my virtual self and virtual goods to another person. Oddly, the only thing of "value" I can think of is an account on a site of nefarious sorts. (No, it isn't MetaFilter. And no, I won't give you my l33t pre-90,000 MetaFilter username.)

And I'm spoused to a disabled user. It doesn't sound as serious as it looks with black background on the professional white background. It actually sounds a bit insensitive. Sorry.

posted by filthy light thief at 3:46 PM on January 5, 2011


Also, what happens when a tech-hating beneficiary is taxed for inheriting lucrative online properties they have no capability to use, or interest thereof?

I'm not sure why virtual properties are unique in this regard. What if I were to inherit my aunt's troll collection, or my uncle's telephone-sanitizing business?
posted by dhartung at 3:47 PM on January 5, 2011


This is very interesting to me as someone trained to do history. I was a medievalist in grad school, and documents from my period were scarce. You have to infer a lot of data from chance survivals, like legal records or church records. Modern historians have a positive embarrassment of riches compared to medievalists. And now in the digital age, there's so much data that historians can't swim through it all to make any sense of it--but it's all ephemeral and subject to serious editing (cf the comments about Leslie Harpold above). So we may end up right back where we started as historians: inferring from the chance, or edited, surviving documents.

I'm not sure what to make of it other than how odd it is that too much data turns out to be, in some ways, the same thing as not enough. It's kind of a metaphor for modern life, I guess.
posted by immlass at 3:50 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can anyone tell me ten things do in cyberspace when you're dead?

I don't know about cyberspace, but Tom Waits warns us never to try driving a car.
posted by JHarris at 3:52 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thinking about putting all this effort into it reminds me of one of the more amusing entries in the no-I'm-not-going-to-link-to Rotten Dot Com:
Q. What would you think if someone put pictures of your dead body on the Internet?

A. We probably wouldn't think anything about it, what with being dead and all that.
posted by localroger at 3:58 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Humanity gets better and better at creating information, but at the same time the means of storing said information grows more and more fragile and ephemeral. A few years ago a friend of mine had a hard drive die on him and 80 GBs of (un-backed up) music, photos, videos, etc. went up in smoke. There probably wasn't 80 GBs' worth of information in the entire Library of Alexandria.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


briank: I died in 2004. This software just runs on a server somewhere and will maintain my online presence until the prepaid account runs out.

"In the sub-basement of what was once an industrial park, the server continued asking questions posting comments to the void. The network was long-gone--the ethernet cables vaporized right where they emerged to the surface--but this didn't stop the server. It had a queue." (Or the pseudo-sentience was really bored.)
posted by filthy light thief at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is depressing. My father attempts to send me emails all the time now. All caps lock. "WHY ARE YOU NOT HAVING REAL FAMILY CHILDREN,ETC BETA THIS IS YOUR FATHER" He ought to just share an email account with my mother, but yahoo is free.
posted by anniecat at 4:04 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


*I mean, that's what I'll have left of him in the future. With subject lines like URGENT and other messages like "WHY ARE YOU NOT CALLING VIJAY UNCLE HE IS MY BROTHER"
posted by anniecat at 4:05 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


And you know, they aren't even blood relations. Vijay uncle is the cousin of someone who felt like he owed our family for some loan made in the fifties. There is no need for them to drive 200 miles to pick me up at the airport and deposit me at college 20 miles from the airport. /rant

And I have to live with that because of email when my regular mind would have forgotten it. They wouldn't call more than once a week but email is free. Everyday people everyday.
posted by anniecat at 4:08 PM on January 5, 2011


While we fellow friends can share a chuckle at viagra ads from the beyond I wonder what the parents/significant others think when the familiar names pop into their inboxes.

Obligatory Achewood
posted by girih knot at 4:11 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Woah, this post (and the comments) is pretty... I don't want to say surreal, but interesting. The cryptic nature of the post, followed by the comments is interesting.

I sort of knew Mac. I say "sort of," because I didn't, really; I knew him mostly only in the context of his blog (and eventually other writing), which I'd followed off and on pretty consistently ever since I stumbled over it as a weirdo teenager into weirdo things. From time to time, I'd leave a comment, but my attitude towards commenting on someone's blog was to be as succint and to the point (and always, always on topic) as I could be, which cut down on quite a bit of small talk, friendliness and overall empathy. Blame my early experiences with blogs and the people who write them, I guess.

Shortly before Mac's death, I'd be thinking about getting over that particular quirk and leaving friendlier, lighter comments; this is someone whose words I'd been reading and with whom I had been interacting in a small way for years. Surely he'd appreciate the gesture. I regret not doing that, because Mac seemed like a genuinely interesting, friendly human being and I'm sure we would have gotten along quite well.

Anyway, what really sparked this anecdote is the final post that delmoi links to there. I still sometimes look at (view? experience? I'm grasping for the right word) it when a misstep in my navigation bar takes me there instead of to Post Secret. I still sometimes stare at the Posthuman Blues URL sitting comfortably beside Post Secret's. It's a very haunting experience, and I'm not sure what to do with it, exactly. The death of someone you've only known online doesn't feel any less real, but it seems to almost highlight the loss: with all these records of a person's life and work left behind, the bittersweet sting is in knowing that they won't make any more--so much of who they were remains with the living, but the essence is lost forever.

Knowing this, and the way his death coincided with my decision to reach out to him, leaves me with an incredibly melancholy feeling that still sometimes creeps up on me in quieter moments. Our lives are really so much shorter and more fragile than we ever think, and we only have so long to show someone we may care;

Man has here two and a half minutes -- one to smile, one to sigh,
and a half for love: for in the midst of this minute he dies.

posted by byanyothername at 4:20 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


My uncle is rapidly dying in a hospice. He was a cryptographer for the NSA, and apparently very distinguished, but the details are classified. Because of his high clearance he took pains to make sure there was little casual media of him: few snapshots, no idle correspondence, and of course, no public record of his accomplishments. His son called me on his behalf a few months back and asked me not to post any photos of him on FaceBook.

No one without at least Top Secret will even know he has a legacy, but I trust the spook archivists with its preservation a lot more than I do Zuckerberg et al.
posted by clarknova at 4:35 PM on January 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


.
posted by DaddyNewt at 4:37 PM on January 5, 2011


Digital wills are especially important for MeFites with multiple site spouses - to avoid a legal fight between them over who inherits your favorites.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:58 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Makes me remember Metafilterians who've died and the whole topic of their posts. It still feels sad and slightly eerie to come across posts from soulbee and poopy and Bageena.
posted by jasper411 at 5:19 PM on January 5, 2011


Makes me remember Metafilterians who've died and the whole topic of their posts.

Sniff. Why do I cry when you little bastards die.
posted by phaedon at 5:26 PM on January 5, 2011


Like almost all things in my life, I was obsessed about digital estate planning for about two months and the business opportunities in it before promptly forgetting about it for a year. At the time, it was kind of a messy affair, because tracking passwords and new accounts for a third party was a bitch at the time. It seems like sites like Mint.com handle that sort of tracking information pretty well right now, so I imagine it's gotten easier.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 5:39 PM on January 5, 2011


When I go, I'm taking my favorites with me. Sorry, suckers.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:51 PM on January 5, 2011


verb: Way back in the day, I helped build a roleplay oriented MUD with a group of friends I only knew online. We spent a few months hashing out the details of a virtual world, building it, decorating it with meticulously written scraps of text and hidden surprises. One of the team dropped off the face of the earth, and it was a week or so before we found out that she'd died.

Although te game eventually launched, large swaths of it that she'd worked on were locked off, unfinished. Her in-game avatar was left intact, sitting in a virtual chair in a workroom she'd made of pure text. If you looked at her, it noted that she'd been asleep for several months.


That's pretty evocative, verb. I remember running into monuments for dead coders in the MUDs I used to play - there's always a special feeling to it. You don't usually find memorials to dead writers written by their friends and inserted into the middle of their material. Plus, the MUD really gives you the ability to give the feeling of 'place', if you are a good writer.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:08 PM on January 5, 2011


Mac was a buddy of mine, and I created a substantial post on here when he passed, but made the horrific mistake of linking to a couple of interviews with him from my former podcast show, which made one of the mods remove the entire post. Apparently, being emotional about a friend unexpectedly dying and making a mistake is some sort of sin on here. Anyway, it was gratifying to see him so prominently featured in that article, he was a totally decent and intelligent fellow, an original thinker who made a deep impression on most folks who interacted with him, and he'll remains alive through his thoughts and words, many of which remain intact on the web, including the interviews I previously mentioned.
posted by dbiedny at 6:21 PM on January 5, 2011


I lost a dear friend of mine years ago to Hodgkin's lymphoma -- say it with me survivors, fuck cancer -- anyway, he had been keeping an online journal documenting his efforts, thoughts, etc while enduring two years of treatment. It's at times heartwarming, at times heartwrenching, and while it is still "private" to his friends and family, we still pay to keep it online because it's sort of a .. shrine? to him. You can visit and sniffle and hear his words as you read the pages.

His family also kept his computer, and he had AIM on auto-connect, so for about a year he kept popping on my IM list. That was a little weird. I had to make a new category "Dead Man Walking" to put him in...

RIP Jeff. Interesting article.
posted by cavalier at 7:05 PM on January 5, 2011


That's pretty evocative, verb. I remember running into monuments for dead coders in the MUDs I used to play - there's always a special feeling to it. You don't usually find memorials to dead writers written by their friends and inserted into the middle of their material.
I think one of the reasons it felt really "wrong" to change it was that she'd built all of it herself; her own "workshop" that she used as her default location in the game, and even the customization to her own avatar that displayed the time since her last login as, "Milisa has been sleeping for [x days]."

It was strange, because she'd been chatting with a few of us in my own area of the game when she logged off last; every day when I logged in she was "sleeping" there, and when we discovered that she'd passed away, it felt "right" to move her to her own workshop. The mechanics of the online world she'd helped build seemed to preserve her memory in unexpected ways.

In retrospect, I think that it's the best analogy to capture the hope and existential "zing" of some religious faiths: the sense that loved ones are not gone forever, simply absent for a little while, sleeping.
posted by verb at 7:11 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've told friends that when I bite it, I want my online presence obliterated. My password to my laptop is stored in a sealed envelope in a safe and my husband has the instructions to go nuclear on every site I've ever posted to in the event of my shuffling off this mortal coil.

The last thing I want is my loved ones reading my Twitter feed and realizing how incredibly boring I really was. I mean, I want them to mourn me and not realize "Jesus, that girl had way too much nothing on her mind."
posted by sonika at 7:20 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a forum, catering to a specific time and a specific place online, where even though the time has passed and the place is no more, those who lived in the then and there remained, simply because we loved each other, and understood each other as no-one else did or could, even tho we were all anonymous, obscure pen-names to shield our mud-and-blood mortal selves with brilliant possibility.

One of us, long after the time was past and the place was gone, was proud of his expanding waistline. He claimed it was a sign he was a productive member of society - he was happily married and secure in his family life. His ever larger pant sizes proof he was a good and faithful husband and dad, providing a comfortable existence for those he loved the best.

Then, as slowly as he put it on, all of the weight came off in a hurry. He was puzzled, as it wasn't a choice, it happened almost of it's own accord. He slimmed right down to college weight in a matter of months. Claimed it was possible simply because he chose to eat less... he'd still eat whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it... he just wanted it less. He was proud of this, but also puzzled. He didn't mean to lose the weight, he didn't plan on dieting, it just came off.

He was diagnosed with a type of cancer you generally don't get to tell survival stories about. He had life altering surgery, and was going back for more. It was stalling for time.

I welched on a Superbowl bet with another forum member, and used that as an excuse not to go back to the forum.

Because there was a specific time and a specific place online, and we all belonged, seeing the future together. I can't bear to think of the internet without him.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:39 PM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


My best friend died in 2008, and he is still in my Facebook friends list, and I still go back and read his emails. Even, maybe especially, the mundane ones, remind me that he was a real person, in the way that my memories and grief somehow let me forget. We had so many completely dull conversations, about nothing important whatsoever, just boring yadda about music or movies or books or some bitchy tidbit of celebrity gossip. Even what turned out to be our last conversation is ordinary, even though it seems like it should have been IMPORTANT, even though it seems like if I read it enough times I will be able to see foreshadowing of what was to come. But even so, in those conversations are our personal shorthand, our in-jokes born of a quarter-century of friendship. And if they didn't exist, he would now be memories and some photographs and some music, the reality of his day to day existence would have faded. I don't know if this is good or bad, if the fact that I read his emails sometimes makes it harder for me to truly accept the reality of his death or if they bring me comfort because I don't have to let go completely. I won't be deleting them either way.
posted by biscotti at 8:58 PM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Have any of you read the book Deamon, by Daniel Suarez? It's a novel about the digital afterlife of a warped, paranoid evil genius. An interesting read.
posted by crunchland at 9:57 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Relevant, tragic obit thread for Bill Zeller happening now in MetaTalk.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:03 PM on January 5, 2011


Makes me remember Metafilterians who've died and the whole topic of their posts.

That's what I've been thinking about the last few days. I find the topic in abstract fascinating, but haven't really been able to give this article a clear read since it's a little too close to home at the moment: Bill Zeller, aka null terminated, just died.
posted by cortex at 11:04 PM on January 5, 2011


A few days ago Facebook suggested I become friends with my wife's dead aunt. I'm not sure what to do with that.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:06 AM on January 6, 2011


A few days ago Facebook suggested I become friends with my wife's dead aunt. I'm not sure what to do with that.

Be worried if she accepts.
posted by clarknova at 11:17 AM on January 6, 2011


...I don't have enough online friends.

I used to. I had plans to visit Machu Picchu with a friend from my online game. Another, we had some serious conversations about gender roles and human perception of one another, before some insensitive idiot hurt them and they had to flee the community. I have exchanged real world dollars to give these people that I'd never met frivolous gifts. Several more, I cultivated real personal connections with that morphed into long and interesting telephone conversations weekly. I used to know people who would always be there, and I there for them. People who were happy for me and sad for me, people who I felt I knew.

But now. My online life is so much less rich and varied. I sit here, blank-faced, taking in information, not interacting with people. Most of you, if I made it to a meetup, would not recognize my username. Lots of you I recognize by username, many I respect for different reasons. When someone I think fondly of disappears from the site for awhile, I miss them. I wonder where they have gone and what turns their life has taken.

This community could be my home, but I doubt it. This site is too large and I am too different from you to really connect with anyone in the sense that I miss. The fact that communication here can often be drive-by and doesn't have the sense of immediacy that helps me interact truthfully and well. There is something about a small, close-knit community of people who miss one another.

Metafilter is good at mourning the loss of members of the community. Metafilter is good at remembering that we are all human. But today, Metafilter is making me sad.
posted by Night_owl at 11:21 AM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


A few days ago Facebook suggested I become friends with my wife's dead aunt. I'm not sure what to do with that.

You're supposed to be able to report the accounts of deceased members to Facebook to be put into memorial status. One of the effects of memorial FB accounts is that they no longer show up as suggested friends.
posted by immlass at 1:50 PM on January 6, 2011


In 2009, I had a particularly grave falling out with someone I'd considered a very good friend. Since him and I were pointedly not friends anymore, I no longer had him on any online contact list, nor did I have anything related to him. I wanted to erase any speck of his presence in my life.

A few months later, while I was still in the throes of "I'm gonna cave his fucking face in if I ever see him again" rage, he died in a freak accident. He didn't have a lot of writing public, the only thing online that he left behind was his Google Buzz feed, and even that was largely him re-posting articles from other places.

But despite this, and In spite of all the (completely justified) anger I held, what got to me was scrolling down his feed, and seeing over and over again

"Chris is not available for chat."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:17 AM on January 7, 2011


I was in a few college classes with a girl in her early twenties, and while we didn't really hang out or anything, we were FB friends. She was disabled, using a wheelchair, and, as I understood it, would never walk. I don't recall when exactly, but about a year ago, she died quite unexpectedly. I finally "unfriended" her on Facebook, as I found what was going on to be a little weird: people - lots of people - were posting to her wall quite frequently, telling her that she was missed, etc. Her fiance used it as a way to tell her things he wished he'd told her when she was alive.

Perhaps I'm being callous, but it all seemed to be more about the people doing it than about the girl; I'm not at all religious, but most of the stuff that was being posted struck me as "this should be done in prayer, not on a damned social networking site."
posted by menschlich at 9:03 AM on January 7, 2011


Couldn't the same be said for many of the comments on obituary posts on this site?
posted by crunchland at 9:10 AM on January 7, 2011


« Older Dvorak's revenge?   |   "One day I'm gonna whistle?" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post