And Now…The Digital Afterlife

As anyone who’s planned or settled an estate knows, it’s hard enough, wading through the hereins and thereofs, to figure out who gets the dog and the china when someone passes.

Just when I thought I’d figured that out, a helpful friend (thanks, I think) sent along an e-mail informing me of the urgent need for a digital will.

“Well worth the 17 minute listen … incorporate into your resources,” she said. Discovering my informant would be NPR’s Terry Gross, I could, of course, not decline, and sentenced myself to the 17-minute rendition. In it, I learned why, based on a new book called Your Digital Afterlife, I needed to find a way to bequeath my user names and passwords to a “digital executor” who would use them to dispose of my electronic remains.

I have to admit this brings on a cold sweat. Simply giving someone authority over whatever’s left in the bank account at death is nothing. Money tells no tales. Money makes no ill-advised comments.

Money is simple. Passwords are not.

The realization that I have a digital afterlife brings a complication I never intended. I see the wisdom, but I have no idea what to tell a digital executor to do.

Should my blog posts come down? Stay up? What about my Tweets? And those Facebook posts announcing, “Yay! The sun is out”? Do they need immediate extinction or eternal life? And oh…the e-mails. I should probably get rid of those.

Otherwise, my kids might weigh in and report that like a hoarder with a house full of cats, I have not erased a message since 1969.

Without a digital will, family and friends might search them and discover names taken in vain?

How would the sender of a message feel to know I had forwarded it to someone else with a sigh and an “FYI – here we go again”?

What about messages composed to vent but never sent? Or comments made about the very people who would be speaking at my funeral?

Otherwise inspiring eulogies might quickly deteriorate into brief statements read from index cards to the effect that I was “someone who always said what she thought.”

But going this route is not easy. How many wherefores would it take to tell the DE how to dispose of this stuff? Like me, would he worry about dropping my PC by one of those places that “scrubs” them, only to wonder if the scrubbers are actually pulling off Social Security numbers and carrying them home in their back pockets? Should I suggest wrapping my PDA in duct tape and a garbage bag and tossing it in a dumpster?

Or should I just go with the authors’ “two-minute” back-up route of simply telling someone I trust where the user names and passwords are and saying, “Please take care of those.”

Considering life is short, I think the two-minute plan – and a roll of duct tape – will protect my digital legacy just fine.

Copyright 2011 Pat Snyder

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