On the necessity of Internet wills.
March 6, 2005 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Ghosts in the Machine. How many email addresses do you have? How many forums have you joined? How many people do you speak to online? Where does the trail of your Internet life take you--and what would happen to it when you die? MyLastEmail and DiedOnline haven't been available for a while now. Executors' jobs may get a lot more complicated.
posted by Anonymous (23 comments total)
The closest I've found to other online death notification services is Rapture Letters, which may or may not be what some people are looking for.
posted by Anonymous at 6:44 PM on March 6, 2005

I remember reading that article in hard copy last year. It's still an interesting read, albeit a bit simplistic and sensationalist.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:04 PM on March 6, 2005

I hope you all get a relative to promise to let us know if you pass. A little collective prayer or moment of silence for your soul if you do. It's a community so the goings are important too. It's a pretty morbid topic, but I just spent an hour on the phone with someone, not a MeFite, who is currently contemplating such things. God bless him.
posted by caddis at 7:05 PM on March 6, 2005

I've thought a lot of about this subject. After my brother died suddenly two years ago I compulsively searched the net looking for traces of his identity. I think it felt like a way to keep him alive. He had been early to the Web, worked as a developer and designer and had a few web sites which his wife still maintains, so it was easy to find him there, but I also found him other places. His death was actually mentioned in the weblog of his co-worker. When I commented there, a former girlfriend of his contacted me. Even now, two years later, I google his name occasionally because I want to see if somewhere, someone is mentioning him. .
posted by robink at 7:06 PM on March 6, 2005

FoB, I also read it in hard copy, but it's stuck with me since then. It's not the best journalism, but it brought attention to an issue I'd hadn't realized was an issue until I read the article and tried writing some instructions down for clearing my online presence. Perhaps I'm more spread out than others, but the enormity of the task was boggling.
posted by Anonymous at 7:10 PM on March 6, 2005

I have seen obit postings on fark when Drew or whoever learns that one of their members has died. I don't remember any MetaFilter deaths, although I'm sure there have been. Its sad to think of someone's userpage outlasting them, forever static, but we have always left traces of ourselves that remain after we are gone; our digital output is just a newer way to leave such traces.
posted by yhbc at 7:12 PM on March 6, 2005

On a related note: "After Death, a Struggle for Their Digital Memories," by Ariana Eunjung Cha. (Seems to be reprinted in full here; look for the Feb. 3 post.)

FWIW, I've often thought of all my digital bits scattered here and there, but I'm not sure I would want to assign anyone to go through my accounts after I'm gone. First, there are a lot of them; and second, some of them are intensely personal and contain the occasional 700 permission.... I guess that's something that will become more and more common in wills: which accounts to delete, or comment on, and which to leave alone and not investigate.
posted by Tuwa at 8:00 PM on March 6, 2005

Back when I ran a few websites in the pseudo-journalistic world of videogame fandom, I had all the staff members submit phone information to me, and my phone information went to a few trustworthy deputies. The idea was that if anybody suddenly stopped showing up to awesome IRC meetings, that we'd try and figure out what was going on.

Nobody died, but a few people threatened to kill themselves. That was pretty delightful.

Interesting post/commentary, peoples.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 8:23 PM on March 6, 2005

i plan on taking all of you with me.
posted by timb at 8:40 PM on March 6, 2005

Faint of Butt, I too, read it in hardcopy. How many Baltimore MeFites are there?
posted by Grod at 8:50 PM on March 6, 2005

This is fascinating, in a macabre way.

If I may share a story... aeons ago, on Livejournal, I had on my list a person who posted at a message board we both frequented. She'd been going through some bouts of badness and her postings took a decided turn from 'sad' into 'frightening.' Then she posted that she'd taken a bottle of sleeping pills.

I got hold of a mutual friend from that forum, and between the two of us (she in Ireland, me in America, and Danger Girl in a small town in Australia) we sorted through info to find out where this girl was, then went through a rent check's worth of international phone calls to get hold of local law enforcement who could go out and check on her.

She was taken to the emergency room and wound up none the worse for wear, despite having to drink a tall glass of charcoal solution in water. She was aggravated, afterwards, at "the fuss" we made over her, but later thanked us, because it made her realize people do care. I don't take suicide talk lightly, and if someone tells me they've taken something, I won't relent until they're in a hospital being checked out.

It was such an obvious thing to do, you know, to make sure she'd be all right. I'd like to think we prevented another post on that Livejournal Deaths page... at the least, the girl knew that there were people out there who wanted her to be okay.

(The reason I took this so seriously is another story... that friend survived, too.)
posted by cmyk at 9:42 PM on March 6, 2005

My somber mood was utterly destroyed by the idea of the Rapture Letters manager missing the dead-man switch one day.

"Look here, says the rapture came last night, Bill. That's a shame, guessed they forgot to pick you up. And you were so confident."

As an atheist at a Christian college, I take special pleasure in this scenario.
posted by NickDouglas at 10:37 PM on March 6, 2005

good one cmyk. It must feel good to make such a positive difference :)
posted by omega at 10:49 PM on March 6, 2005

I have a section of my will that deals with this stuff, mostly in terms of things like "send email so and so, and ask them to communicate to boards or online friends the news" of my sad demise, etc., and how to take down my sites, and so on and so forth. It would be quite awful to just leave traces of oneself floating around out here without some finality, a period at the end of the conversation.
posted by jokeefe at 11:58 PM on March 6, 2005

This is sort of tangentially related. Here goes a link to flickr on someone's sudden disappearance.
posted by fixedgear at 1:35 AM on March 7, 2005

It's fascinating to see people react to the ramifications of death on the virtual world differently than they would in the real world. Like Tuwa not wanting someone to go through certain virtual accounts... yet without any apparent problem regarding that same person going through an underwear drawer, mailed correspondence, weird magazine subscriptions, etc.

It's as if people are only just realizing this virtual world runs by many of the same rules as the regular one.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:37 AM on March 7, 2005

'The appeal of cinema lies in the fear of death'

Jim Morrison.

sort of applies in this new media as well.

posted by brucec at 6:49 AM on March 7, 2005

timb: i plan on taking all of you with me.
I wonder how long it would take the police to figure out that serial killer pattern. Assuming you pulled off one per day but never more than say 5 in a row in any one local. Always being careful to not hit people who would be missed there by connecting the dots for the community.

GhostintheMachine: It's as if people are only just realizing this virtual world runs by many of the same rules as the regular one.

The net is a big enabler for a lot of people. There are things some of my online personas participate in that I don't do in meatspace. Like international arms trafficer back when it was illegal to "export" strong crypography from the US.
posted by Mitheral at 8:36 AM on March 7, 2005

You to can become an international arms trafficker
posted by Mitheral at 9:08 AM on March 7, 2005

This meatspace sounds delicious. Tell me more.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 4:48 PM on March 7, 2005

NickDouglas: I'm an agnostic directing a church choir and you have absolutely made my day. I can just imagine myself coming into work and being delighted that we didn't lose a single tenor.
posted by honeydew at 6:29 PM on March 7, 2005

posted by Mitheral at 6:54 PM on March 7, 2005

Wow, I'd never even thought about all of the online crap...should gods forbid, it turn out that I'm not immortal.
posted by dejah420 at 8:33 PM on March 7, 2005

« Older Hate People Like Us   |   Yardsale! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments