The Law society urges people to leave instructions for their digital legacies and points out that failing to plan for how your digital life is dealt with could mean the loss of important and sentimental information. In addition to this, leaving clear instruction with how to deal with your social media, online banking and email accounts will leave no doubt as to whether you wish to have a digital epitaph on Facebook and will make access to accounts easier for those handling your estate.
Law Society president Nicolas Fluck says, ‘As technology has evolved, so has the way we store information. Simple things such as photographs, which in the past we could have flicked through in a printed album, are now stored online. By making our wishes clear now, it will be easier for loved ones to recover pictures to cherish and will help with the more practical issues such as online bank accounts.’
One such aspect of digital legacies is how you want to manage your social media accounts. Technology is evolving and the stuff that used to be the realm of science fiction, like using a computer to speak to your deceased friends and family, is now being brought to fruition with the aid of social networking sites. There are several ways that people can choose to communicate after they are gone. Two of these tools, Etrni.me and DeadSocial, emphasise that they are first and foremost tools for the living but have the possibility of bringing comfort to our loved ones after our inevitable demise.
Marius Ursache, CEO of Eterni.me, leads a team who are developing a product which will allow you to create a digital avatar whilst you are living that, ‘generates a virtual YOU, an avatar that emulates your personality and can interact with, and offer information and advice to your family and friends, even after you pass away.’ So how does it work?
‘Once you sign up for Eterni.me, it will ask you which digital streams you want to process—Facebook, Twitter, emails, photos, geolocation history, maybe even Google Glass or Fitbit data. The data will be collected, filtered and analyzed in order to “make sense” of it.
Of course, “making sense” and “emulating” are still primitive today, but by periodically interacting with this avatar, you will allow it to make more sense in the next 30-40 years that you still have to live. This way, it becomes more accurate and knows more about you in time.
So it’s more curating a digital legacy during your lifetime, which can be useful in many ways.’
Still confused as to what it is and how it works? The closest thing to Urashe’s vision is the dystopian technology portrayed in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episode, Be Right Back.
In the programme a woman, grief stricken at the loss of her partner, signs up for a service that emulates his personality. She becomes so obsessed with interacting with this digital likeness that she shuts her self off from reality. While Ursache admits there may be the potential for this he feels that, ‘Brooker’s vision does not take into consideration that technology advances linearly, not in breakthrough leaps that cause such disturbed reactions from humans. When we have technology at that level, most people will already be adapted to its moral implications and risks.’
So far over 22,000 people have signed up in anticipation of Eterni.me’s 2015-16 release. When asked what the reaction thus far has been he says, ‘Mostly good, but we’ve had our share of detractors. We have others who say that what we do is creepy and wish us to go to hell or fail (whichever is worse). But the most emotional thing is we’ve received messages from people who are terminally ill and would want to use our product as soon as it’s available.’
DeadSocial, similar to Eterni.me, allows users to store message for posthumous delivery by a digital executor, either a family member or a solicitor and is currently available free for users. Messages can be video, audio or text and are delivered on predetermined dates you decide. While James Norris, founder of DeadSocial, wouldn’t divulge how many people are already signed up, he hinted that it’s in the thousands.
But will products like this succeeded in the market with at least 71 per cent of people in the UK uncomfortable with talking about death and 1 in 9 failing to discuss their funeral wishes. How can we plan for our digital likeness if we can’t face the end of our mortal selves?
Norris laments, ‘We’ve got a culture and tradition of not preparing for death, not writing a will and this is basically another part of preparing for death. This is like preparing for your funeral wishes. If you value these social networks and you think that your friends and family may value them once you’re gone then preparing for them in some way is important.’
‘We create this digital footprint while we are alive, that will ultimately turn into a legacy. Why can’t we manipulate that, control that to an extent. Why cant we help define and tell people who we are and what we have achieved in our lives.’
It may not be immortality but Urashe hopes it will be the next best thing, ‘nobody wants to be forgotten.’
There are other digital tools available to help manage your accounts. Google has a feature called Inactive Account Manager, better know as Google Afterlife, will allow you to decide how your Google accounts are managed. In addition to this, there is an iPhone app for end of life planning called Legacy. It allows users to plan how they would like to be remembered as well as recording life-defining experience and compiling a bucket list.
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