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Are You Ready For the Digital Afterlife? 108

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-ads-and-buffering-bars-in-digital-hell dept.
theodp writes "Dave Winer's call for Future-Safe Archives goes mainstream in Rob Walker's NY Times Magazine cover story on how the Internet can provide a certain kind of immortality to those who are prepared. To illustrate how digital afterlives might play out, Walker cites the case of 34-year-old writer Mac Tonnies, who updated his blog on Oct. 18, 2009, sent out some public tweets and private messages via Twitter, went to bed and died of cardiac arrhythmia. As word of his death spread via his own blog, Tonnies's small, but devoted audience rushed in to save his online identity. 'Finding solace in a Twitter feed may sound odd,' writes Walker, 'but the idea that Tonnies's friends would revisit and preserve such digital artifacts isn't so different from keeping postcards or other physical ephemera of a deceased friend or loved one.' Unfortunately, how long Mac Tonnies's digital afterlife will remain for his Web friends and parents is still a big question, since it's preserved in a hodge-podge of possibly gone-tomorrow online services for which no one has the passwords. Hoping to fill the need for digital-estate-planning services are companies like Legacy Locker, which are betting that people will increasingly want control over their digital afterlife. 'We're entering a world where we can all leave as much of a legacy as George Bush or Bill Clinton,' says filmmaker-and-friend-of-Tonnies Paul Kimball. 'Maybe that's the ultimate democratization. It gives all of us a chance at immortality.'"
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Are You Ready For the Digital Afterlife?

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  • 'We're entering a world where we can all leave as much of a legacy as George Bush or Bill Clinton'

    I hope not!

    • I pray to Allah, Krishna, Thor, "Bob" and whatever else may be listening that when I go, I don't leave behind me a steaming pile of legacy that matches the output of those two Worthy Gentlemen.

      And I'm pretty sure that my friends and family have more taste than to honor my memory with a fucking Twitter feed.

  • by Tom (822) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @02:17PM (#34806004) Homepage Journal

    That's all beating around the bush. There is no afterlife, so how about the more serious question of coming to terms with someone's death? I is a frightening aspect that doesn't make it easier to cope that thanks to technology, people can still "act" (i.e. post updates) after they died, due to automation etc.

    Does it make it easier or more difficult to cope when the deceased is still around somehow? There's a well-known structure for humans dealing with drastic changes like this, and it has two key parts that matter in this context: The phase where you ignore and fight the truth, i.e. the "he isn't really dead" part. Everyone who griefs has it, some get over it very quickly, some linger on it sometimes for years. The other is the "letting go and re-orienting" phase. Both are presumable more difficult the more old stuff you have around.

    I personally think that our ancestors had a good formula: You were given a year to grief, and everyone would understand. But after that, you'd better be done with griefing and continue on with your own life. It at least gave people a guideline.

    • If you don't know where this famous quote is from, sigh, well, I feel sorry for you.

      Mr. Praline: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. 'E's dead, that's what's wrong with it!

      Owner: No, no, 'e's uh,...he's resting.

    • by slinches (1540051)

      I think griefing the deceased would be in terribly poor taste. Think about how it would affect the grieving process of their family members.

    • by nido (102070) <nido56&yahoo,com> on Saturday January 08, 2011 @03:03PM (#34806388) Homepage

      There is no afterlife, so how about the more serious question of coming to terms with someone's death?

      That's just as much a statement of faith as those who believe in the concept of an afterlife.

      Ian Stevenson [wikipedia.org] spent his life investigating cases that were suggestive of reincarnation. I have his books somewhere. He never found proof positive of reincarnation, but the evidence he did find is compelling. As long as it doesn't interfere with one's belief system, that is.

      hth, hand.

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        There is no afterlife, so how about the more serious question of coming to terms with someone's death?

        That's just as much a statement of faith as those who believe in the concept of an afterlife.

        Ian Stevenson [wikipedia.org] spent his life investigating cases that were suggestive of reincarnation. I have his books somewhere. He never found proof positive of reincarnation, but the evidence he did find is compelling. As long as it doesn't interfere with one's belief system, that is.

        hth, hand.

        Recent surveys say 28% of Americans believe in reincarnation. The rest use ordinary milk.

      • by Seumas (6865)

        Faith is a positive assertion of something which can not be proven. You can claim that a jolly race of gnomes lives just under the surface of Mars and have faith that you are right, but my claiming that it isn't so (until evidence and then proof is discovered) is not a claim of 'faith'.

        It's a common tactic for religious or supernatural people who make claims about god and ghosts and paranormal activities and all sorts of goofy stuff to try and gain validity for their beliefs by asserting that the point of l

        • by nido (102070)

          The original poster stated his beliefs as fact, and I called him on it.

          faith [merriam-webster.com] 3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction;

          There's still plenty of room for interpretation in quantum physics.

      • by Tom (822) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @11:31PM (#34811516) Homepage Journal

        That's just as much a statement of faith as those who believe in the concept of an afterlife.

        Only due to the way I stated it, not in principle. See Russell's Teapot [wikipedia.org] for an extensive treatment. If you want an afterlife, you prove it. You can't rest on that it hasn't been disproven, because I can always make a more outrageous claim that you haven't yet falsified. I could claim right now that there's a Starbucks on Jupiter. Prove me wrong.

        Ian Stevenson spent his life investigating cases that were suggestive of reincarnation. I have his books somewhere. He never found proof positive of reincarnation, but the evidence he did find is compelling. As long as it doesn't interfere with one's belief system, that is.

        I might actually pick it up because I'm interested in such stuff. But the key word is "never found proof positive". For such a dramatic claim that would uproot a lot of science and belief systems, there better be more than some compelling evidence, and it better be independent of belief systems.

        • by ultranova (717540)

          If you want an afterlife, you prove it. You can't rest on that it hasn't been disproven, because I can always make a more outrageous claim that you haven't yet falsified. I could claim right now that there's a Starbucks on Jupiter. Prove me wrong.

          As it happens, there are possible histories that would result in there being a Starbucks on Jupiter. Since these histories are possible - that is, they can't be ruled out based on what I know about the world - I can't conclude with certainty that there is no Starb

          • by nido (102070)

            ... trusting any prior knowledge requires a belief system.

            Hey, thanks for posting. I've been thinking a lot about consensus and conventional wisdom of late. Next I'll have to look up 'Last Thursdayism'... :)

          • by Tom (822)

            the probability and note that it is very low. In fact, it is so low that it usually makes sense to simply treat it - and other very low probabilities - as zero

            Which is a long-winded way of saying "there almost certainly isn't". And I agree entirely. So we are on the same boat. If I want to claim that there is a Starbucks on Jupiter, I better be ready to prove it, because from all the information available, the probability that there is seems to be so ridiculously low that disproving it isn't an honest request.

            Same for afterlife of any kind. Any evidence we have is either fabricated by charlatans exploiting the weaknesses of the grieving, or wishful thinking, or i

    • damn that facebook horoscopes app....

      A friend of mine swears she hasnt been on facebook in months, yet i still see the odd update from that app inmy newsfeed

    • Hardly anyone gives a shit about online tweets and web pages when you're alive. No one will give a shit when you're dead. This story is about the novelty of preserving online bits and pieces for one individual. It has no bearing on what one should do in general.

    • by Seumas (6865)

      This reminds me of people who talk about the singularity, which some feel will allow us to essentially live forever through the combination of artificial intelligence and our life history of knowledge and actions. Or, as people like Kurzweil feel, literally actually living forever through medical advancements post-singularity.

      I'm unable to grasp the concept that you somehow have eternal life simply because there is an entity out there with all of your information that behaves as you do. People talk about it

      • by Tom (822)

        but *I* have still experienced all the horrible agony of death and non-existence.

        Almost agreed, until there. The whole point of it, and the part that we can no comprehend, is that you do not experience non-existence. By definition you no-experience non-existence because one of its features is the absence of experience.

        • by ultranova (717540)

          The whole point of it, and the part that we can no comprehend, is that you do not experience non-existence. By definition you no-experience non-existence because one of its features is the absence of experience.

          Ever been unconscious? Remember that brief flash of darkness? That's what it's like when your brain shuts down. You don't think, you don't feel, you don't remember, you don't comprehend you don't see or hear or even notice the passage of time - but you most certainly experience nothingness. Which, o

    • by dhasenan (758719)
      No afterlife? Dammit, I want to get a robotic body once I die.
    • by inanet (1033718)

      of course there is an afterlife,

      scientifically accepted too, however most religious wouldnt like it.

      as for the religious side of the afterlife debate, I'll not get into that, but we do spend our entire life converting energy from one form to another.
      this stops to a greater extent when we die, however forgoing being destroyed in a fission or fusion reaction the atoms that consist of "you" will continue for a long time,

      and the energy that was "you" cannot be created or destroyed, but may be converted in many

      • by Tom (822)

        this stops to a greater extent when we die, however forgoing being destroyed in a fission or fusion reaction the atoms that consist of "you" will continue for a long time,

        You have a strange conception of what "you" is. The atoms in my body certainly are not "me". In fact, they get regularily exchanged. The "me" I experience is not in the matter. It's not in anything spiritual, either, I don't believe in that nonsense. "Me" is a process of experience, and thus a structure. You can take any single atom out of my body and my "me" would not even feel the difference.

        And I don't see why you make a difference between chemical and nuclear reactions. There's no reason for that.

        Upon d

  • Where I used to work I wrote down all my passwords and kept them in a sealed envelope in a locked drawer that only I and my boss had keys to. It was sealed so I would know if someone opened the envelope, but it was there in case I died or became incapacitated.

    Many people put their passwords in a secure location or share them with a trusted person like their spouse, or store them in a "digital keyring" and write down the access information in a secure location or tell someone they trust how to access the ke

    • by tomhudson (43916)

      My personal recommendation: Store "how to access my account" instructions with your will and estate papers but make them so cumbersome that it will take 2 people's cooperation and more than a day to get access to your accounts. For example, you might type up all your account info and passwords, ROT13 the passwords, send the account info to one relative, the "left half" of each ROT13 password to another relative, and the "right half" to your attorney, all in sealed envelopes with instructions that they not be opened unless you die or become incapacitated. Then put the how-to-reassemble instructions with your will. It's a bit complicated yes, and it requires re-sending with each password change, but with 3 people including your lawyer involved odds of compromise is very low.

      That's easy enough to break.

      A relative probably already has some of your account information - such as your email address and user name. Give me that, and half your password, I know the password length, +/- 1 character. I will own your email account, then go through it to get all your other accounts, use "forgot my password", and own them too.

      Your suggestion isn't very good.

      • by SpeZek (970136) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @03:20PM (#34806596) Journal

        All geekery aside, the guy isn't an international spy with plans to the deathstar. I highly doubt that his relatives (or most anyone else) are going to go to all that trouble to get on his facebook wall before he croaks.

        For that matter, I doubt they'd do it when he croaks either. It's called: write down things and put them in your safety deposit box. Whoever becomes your power of attorney should be someone you trust to do what you want done, and they'll have access. No need for schemes. Honestly, "Odds of Compromise"? Your online identity isn't a national treasure.

        • by tomhudson (43916)
          So why even bother with a safety deposit box? Just keep them in your wallet or purse.

          Or in plain sight. You'd be amazed at how much you can "hide" in plain sight.

        • by formfeed (703859)

          Your online identity isn't a national treasure.

          I disagree.

          People used to write letters. And although they were not intended for anyone but the recipient to read, many families kept them. You can go to the Historical society and read immigrant letters from the 1800s. Historians use them to piece together the everyday history as compared to the glorified official reports or the which-president-what-when history.

          And I guess by 2200, historians would be really happy if their research-droid could run its intelligent extraction tools over a couple thousand f

      • by orkysoft (93727)

        That's why the subject of this thread includes the phrase "trusted source"...

        • by tomhudson (43916)

          That's why the subject of this thread includes the phrase "trusted source"...

          If you trust them that much, then why do you only give either of them half the password?

          Giving half to two people, neither of which you trust enough to give the whole password, isn't a solution. It just shows that you only know people you don't really trust.

  • by noidentity (188756) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @02:19PM (#34806028)

    Are You Ready For the Digital Afterlife? [...] To illustrate how digital afterlives might play out [...] Unfortunately, how long Mac Tonnies's digital afterlife will remain [...] people will increasingly want control over their digital afterlife

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means [google.com] what you think it means [google.com].

  • Eventually, I shall die but be replaced online with a small perl script and then live forever, or at least the life of the server. I wonder if anybody will notice.
    • by davidwr (791652)

      Above remark posted by a perl script on behalf of painandgreed. He shall be missed.

      What's that painandgreed? You aren't dead, you were just testing your script? OK, but you better call the Social Security office and your bank, I just informed them of your passing.

      • by formfeed (703859)
        Hello, I am Eliza.

        Above remark posted by a perl script on behalf of painandgreed.

        Don't you ever say Hello?

        He shall be missed.

        Say, do you have any psychological problems?

        What's that painandgreed?

        I'm not sure I understand you fully.

        You aren't dead, you were just testing your script?

        Oh... aren't dead, me was just testing my script?

        OK, but you better call the Social Security office and your bank, I just informed them of your passing.

        You're not really talking about me, are you?

      • by coolmadsi (823103)

        What's that painandgreed? You aren't dead, you were just testing your script?

        'Ere, he says he's not dead. I can't take him like that. It's against regulations.

  • There's a sucker is born every minute. Nuf said.

    • That won't help their business. They need a sucker dying every minute.

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        That won't help their business. They need a sucker dying every minute.

        Suckers are no more special than anyone else. They won't die every minute - once per person is sufficient.

  • E-ternally Yours - The case for the development of a reliable repository for the preservation of personal digital objects

    http://explorer.cyberstreet.com/CET4970H-Peterson-Thesis.pdf [cyberstreet.com]

  • It is interesting that the primary concern about death in many ancient cultures was to ensure that wise and proper advice [enwp.org] is given to the deceased for the afterlife.

    The primary concern of modern culture is just the opposite: the impact the deceased person has after his death.
    • Also many ancient cultures living people buried food, drink, tools, weapons, even slaves with the dead to ensure they had resources to help them in their afterlife.

      And we do just the opposite: we divide up the dead's possessions for the living.

      Something to do with how our beliefs have changed over the last few thousand years.

      Plus the dying often leave wise and proper advice for the living.

      I *think* you're saying that we should do more to help the dead with their afterlives, but I am not sure.

      • by Tibixe (1138927)
        This is basically about the selfishness of the living.

        First, we think of how the death of a person will affect us, not whether the person is happy after his death or not.
        Second, there is fierce competition for resources; taking from the dead (who cannot protest) was always easy.

        I think we may be too obsessed about "immortality" i.e. making people remember us and we are really afraid of the spiritual afterlife as described by, say, Egyptians.
    • Not always. "Cattle die, kinsmen die, I myself must also die; I know one thing which never dies: the memory of each dead man". From Hávamál. The Norse were all about the impact of the deceased person. But after a generation, you're a name in the kinship records at best, that anyone can confirm. Are you supposed to find solace in that? If that was the best immortality their religion had to offer, no wonder Christianity quickly became so popular.

  • by Anonymous Cowar (1608865) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @02:30PM (#34806122)
    Why not do it the old fashioned way with a quality pen (or pencil) and some good acid free paper. Write in your journal every day, you won't be e-famous, but at least your grand kids will get a peek into your life.
  • First, there was word of mouth. Then there were cave wall drawings and stone carvings. Next, we had books. Then audio recordings, then video.

    These days, you could wear a GPS sensor, body position sensors, body vital sensors, and cameras, and record your entire physical life, except for your inner thoughts.

    Someday, we'll probably be able to record that too.

    Then, people in the future could waste a lot of time just "watching" other people's lives.

    • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@NOSpAM.barbara-hudson.com> on Saturday January 08, 2011 @03:16PM (#34806546) Journal

      First, there was word of mouth. Then there were cave wall drawings and stone carvings. Next, we had books. Then audio recordings, then video.

      These days, you could wear a GPS sensor, body position sensors, body vital sensors, and cameras, and record your entire physical life, except for your inner thoughts.

      Someday, we'll probably be able to record that too.

      Then, people in the future could waste a lot of time just "watching" other people's lives.

      Facebook already provides that ...

    • Given sufficient processing power, and a record of a person's life, and sufficiently advanced e-learning... could you program a computer to learn to act exactly as they would in any situation, to the point of being indistinguishable? Hello, immortality.
    • by gnapster (1401889)
      "Bobby, did you check on Grandpa today?"

      "Yes, mama. Google Lattitude says he's still in the graveyard."

      • by ultranova (717540)

        "Yes, mama. Google Lattitude says he's still in the graveyard."

        Can you rig an alarm to ring if he starts moving? You know, to act as an early warning system against a zombie apocalypse?

  • Who's going to look at all of this info? I mean, besides marketing folk and other data miners? More and more people will die and all of this will accumulate. I don't know how big of a pass-time looking at dead peoples' data is going to become. Also, if this data isn't in the public domain, it won't really be that useful to build new stuff out of either. It just seems like vanity.

    If you want something you created to last after you died and for it to be useful, just release it as CC or something.
    • by dangitman (862676)

      It just seems like vanity.

      It just seems like vanity? Make no mistake, this is the very definition of vanity. It's as if vanity came to your office, flopped its balls out and rubbed them in your face, screaming "I'm Vanity, bitch! Get used to it."

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      It is vanity. Everyone wants to think they're important, and not some microscopic dot on a microscopic dot labeled "You are here."
  • Usual problem of 'eternity' in the computing world meaning about ten years or so. I've got a professor friend who proudly shows off his PhD thesis, it's all done on punched cards. It amuses him highly that neither he nor anybody else could read it these days, the machines just don't exist any more.

    Well maintained paper: 1000 year life span easily if kept in dry cool conditions.

    Your data on disc, or online: couple of decades maybe?

    Back to the usual issue of how to maintain long term memories. I wouldn't leav

    • by tomhudson (43916)

      Usual problem of 'eternity' in the computing world meaning about ten years or so. I've got a professor friend who proudly shows off his PhD thesis, it's all done on punched cards. It amuses him highly that neither he nor anybody else could read it these days, the machines just don't exist any more.

      They can still be read. Your eyeballs or a scanner will do nicely. Or you can send them here [punchcardreader.com].

      More info here [uiowa.edu] and here [uiowa.edu].

  • I wouldn't mind living on in a VR environment, as long as it's not a hell [amazon.com]...

  • I for one don't worry about leaving a record of my life . The government has enough information on file of me and everyone else . So save your money for other things .
  • I'm sitting in my recently deceased grandfather's nearly vacant apartment, currently zero'ing out his hard drive after spending about 12 hours copying files from ZIP disks, CD's, random directories on his Windows machines, etc. Forwarding the e-mail account, setting an auto-reply, unsubscribing from dozens of 'virtual offers', etc., dumping his Firefox saved passwords (banking, etc.).

    The things that make it the most painful are the age of the equipment (p4, IDE, slow USB) and that stuff is everywhere. He

  • If you matter to the world, your legacy will be maintained for you. For the other 99.9999 percent of us, maintaining our legacy is irrelevant, because it's unlikely anyone will care after we're dead anymore than they cared while we were alive.

    The fact is that the most fortunate among us matter to a few people around us while we are alive and those left alive after we die. The first generation removed from us (the first generation after we die that is not old enough to have known us while we were alive) will

    • by moortak (1273582)
      For the first century or so you are right. After that the shortage of records on everyday life start to make you interesting again. I was recently given the task of trying to find out information about an early resident of my city. The biggest contribution this guy made was being one of the first barbers in the city. That minor role in history was enough to have a half dozen people researching every aspect of his life.
  • by heson (915298)
    i've testamented all my passwords to /b/ they will take good care of them and do sesible post mortem posts.
  • The title of this article immediately reminded me of Frederik Pohl's Heechee books.
  • OP is assuming that people will care what you have to say. Blogs, facebook and twitter are full of light rubbish. It would only be of interest if you were a famous person. How much effort have you put into finding out about your Great Grandfathers political views? Have you even asked? Even if this stuff was available, people who use social media. You can't 'friend' a dead person. Even worse, they can't 'friend' you.

    You can already leave written memoirs at the moment. The good thing about those is people w

  • Could be a great thing for future historians if it doesn't vanish into the ether. Imagine being able to access period writings and the like without having to flit all over the country/world...

    IANAH, but I do sleep with one.

  • Does anyone know of where I can get the service that cleans out the porn from my house before my relatives find my body?

  • by hessian (467078) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @09:48PM (#34810802) Homepage Journal

    You will be remembered by some for exceptional deeds, but even 500 years later, only the most exceptional of the exceptional get remembered. They are remembered only as names, a few books, paintings, symphonies or battles.

    Does this make them immortal? Hell no. They are remembered as icons but not individuals. Nothing preserves the individual in its incarnate form. 500 years after your death, no one who knew you will be alive. You will exist only as a symbol.

    Regarding the afterlife, I think it's time we stop the reductionist bigotry. We can't prove that an afterlife exists or not. We do know this universe is very efficient in the conservation of patterns, that these may exist outside of time, and that these tend to involve a micro::macro mirroring. These are suggestive things.

    To paraphrase X-files, "I want to believe," but most days, I'm just another physicalist here on planet earth hoping for the best neurotransmitter function a corned beef sandwich, two cups of coffee and a little hope can provide.

  • To paraphrase Woody Allen -- I don't want to achieve immortality via web presence....I want to achieve it by _not dying..._

  • To: iwakura.lain@home.tachibana.net.jp
    From: chisafree@cyberiacafe.co.jp [Yomoda, Chisa]
    Subject: living on in the wired
    ---

    Lain wrote
    >>What's it like, when you die?

    It really hurts! :)

    -Chisa

  • Materialists have dramatic claims too. The trouble with starting out with a simplistic model of the universe is that you have to keep revising it, whereas the oriental philosophy of yin and yang has been stable throughout the millennium.

    hth, hand.

  • If only a little bit more effort went into preserving actual lives then a little less effort would need to go into preserving remnants.

    Most individuals alive today living in developed countries can have an indefinite lifespan (if they want to).

    That is what cryonic suspension and nanotechnology (to reanimate frozen individuals) or nanotechnology (in the form of nanorobots) to prevent death by various causes are all about.

    While preserving the information is useful. One can only hope that the same effort dire

    • by Feinu (1956378)

      If death could be prevented, we would run into some serious overpopulation problems. Worldwide crude death rate [wikipedia.org] is 8.6 per 1000 annually, while crude birth rate [wikipedia.org] is 20.3 per 1000. World population is thus growing at 11.7 per 1000 people every year.

      Preventing death will thus result in nearly doubling the rate at which world population is growing. As it is currently, we are looking for more sustainable ways to live; accelerated population increases can only worsen the impact we have on our planet.

      • by bradbury (33372)

        Please allow me to point out some flaws in your argument.

        First, comparison of the world-wide birth rates vs. death rates is not useful because it does not take into account the rates relative to the level of societal education and development. In "Western" countries the population growth rate is close to zero or even negative. So your argument only has a basis (population-growth) in countries which do not have access to birth control or countries where women do not have rights or means to prevent concepti

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