Thinking about your demise isn't pleasant, but we do it. We plan to have assets distributed and debts settled, we make care arrangements for loved ones (including pets), and we may even decide what we want to take with us. But what about your digital remains? You know, your Facebook account, your online gaming characters (i.e., World of Warcraft, Second Life), your banking profile, and your assorted memberships throughout the web. What becomes of these accounts? Are you comfortable having just anyone logging in to close them out? Checking your email? Are you comfortable with the idea that the character you worked so hard to build in Second Life could disappear because someone elects to close the account. If you're concerned, you should be. Increasingly, an integral component of our lives is our digital footprint—our digital persona, the identity we craft for ourselves online by posting photos, tweeting updates, sharing geotags, playing video games, and any other element of daily life that we transact online whether it be banking, shopping, research, or even blogging. Worry no longer—the March edition of Wired offers tips on managing your digital remains:
At least three companies — AssetLock.net, Legacy Locker, and the charmingly named Deathswitch.com — have arisen to keep customers’ passwords, usernames, final messages, and so on in a virtual safe-deposit box. After you’re gone, these companies carry out last wishes, alert friends, give account access to various designated beneficiaries, and generally parse out and pass on your online assets. Digital remains that are not bequeathed to an inheritor are incinerated, closing the book on PayPal accounts, profiles, even alternate identities (especially alternate identities: You don’t want your mother knowing about, or worse, playing, the wife-swapping giant badger you became in Second Life).
Essentially, you pay one of these companies to manage your digital persona. They require you to confirm on a regular basis that you're still alive. Once it is determined that you've passed, the applications take the appropriate steps to distribute or destroy element of your digital footprint. There are definite pros and cons to these services: On the one hand, it allows you to have final control over your digital materials, on the other hand it serves as a reminder of how tenuous our web existence really is, which is rather contrary to the way we have been operating. We tweet and update statuses on Facebook to establish ourselves. We're warned constantly that what you post online can come back to haunt you. Yet, these services offer erasure, and they make it seem simple. In the digital age, if we erase our web presence then what do we leave behind? Can we hope for any trace of our existence—our passions, our interests, our connections?