Marc died yesterday. It was quite a shock – I don’t think he was even 60. I knew he had some serious health issues a few years back, but didn’t quite know the extent of them. We weren’t close friends – I’d see him a handful of times a year at our synagogue and have a bit of a chat. He was always congenial – something of a big friendly giant. The e-mails went around the community mailing lists announcing his passing, with the funeral and minyan details.
Then, this morning, something strange happened. In my Facebook feed, a FacebookFriend™ of mine posted a condolence message on Marc’s page. I was a bit taken aback, so I went to his page to discover a handful of messages posted – some of them farewell messages, some directed to his family, and other nice things about him.
I sat there trying to compose a message to post, but it felt so awkward. Who was I writing to? Why was I writing? Is this something for all his FacebookFriend™s to see – a conspicuous condolence? Sometimes, when attending a funeral, I step forward to the bier and say goodbye. That is an intimate, personal moment, and not something to be shared even with those nearby.
Of course, death is a recession-proof business, so this issue has spawned a sub-industry of services to help manage your online life once you go permanently offline. The Digital Beyond is a great think-tank for discussion about these issues. From digital asset planning to Google’s inactive account policies, there’s a whole world of things you never knew you needed to know, but now that you do know, have you sh*t-scared. The legal world is starting to catch up with the issues as well, but as usual lags behind. If you thought writing (and maintaining) a will was difficult, that’s nothing compared to preparing for the digital afterlife.
What do you want to happen to your Facebook page, your tweets, your Instagram pictures and your blogs when you die? Should they all slowly fade away like your body will when it’s in the ground? Or perhaps they should spontaneously combust, if cremation is your preferred option? Perhaps you want an executor (you certainly won’t want to entrust this to your children) to maintain a digital shrine after you are gone? These days, it’s might be just as important as deciding what will happen to your dependants and your money.