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Digital Immortals or Just Noise From the Dead?

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It seems somewhat appropriate that I ended my time at SXSW Interactive discussing what happens to our digital existence at the end of our life. It was a topic that brought much empassioned discussion at the Core Conversation titled "Who Will Check My Email After I Die?"

Many legal, technical, spiritual and philosophical issues were raised and no clear answers emerged. On one end of the spectrum was the grandfather who expressed a desire for this grandchildren to be able to know him after he is gone through his blogs, photos and other digital assets that are stored in many different places. He termed it being "virtually immortal" and talks about it at RememberGranny.com.

On the other end of the spectrum was the audience member who posited that there is already enough noise out there that we don't need the dead continuing to add to it after they're gone. Perhaps only something deemed worthy by an organization such as the Library of Congress should be stored. Some lively debate ensued about who should get to decide if something is "good enough" to be kept or not. Maybe the Library of Congress is not interested in your aunt's personal blog, but your family might be.

The death of someone in the virtual world of Second Life, where residents own the intellectual property rights to things they create in-world is something that has been pondered by many before. Some have chosen to keep their loved one's avatars alive after their death, while others have chosen to end their existence.

I've also witnessed it first-hand when a friend I met through Twitter died suddenly in a car accident. Mutual friends first delivered the word via updates on their own twitter accounts, but then someone placed one final tweet on her account that mentions funeral arrangements. This account is still live today and I consider it a memorial to her.

The leaders of the conversation at SXSW pointed out that there is an opportunity for services to spring up around the digital death dilema. Some they mentioned that already exist include: greatgoodbye.com, assetlock.com, vitallock.com and legacylocker.com.

In the end, no pun intended, it seems at this time that such matters are very much a personal choice. Those who wish to preserve their digital lives after they are gone should begin to think about how to do that now. It could be they need to talk to their lawyers about some sort of addendum to their wills, simply ensure that loved ones have their passwords, engage one of the new services mentioned, or look into personal backups on their own equipment.

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