Whilst watching ABC2 tonight I was fortunate enough to see this clip as part of the Hungry Beast show. This is a great clip that I will use to show to students as a stimulus piece to exploring the concept of “Digital Artifacts” that people leave behind on the Internet. These artefacts may long outlive the the person they include.  

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“Oh, the future! Where we live! You have delivered so much! And yet, you are also confusing. I can share anything I want — pretty much — with anyone, anywhere. Which is great! But on the other hand, who owns my data? Not so great. When I die, will I really want my children, or spouse to see every detail of my misspent youth? To be able to read every email I ever sent in my life? Or, will I want them to know everything about me, and be glad there’s a way for them to do that? (Hard to know at the moment, seeing as children are likely far off for me, as I have trouble enough remembering to feed both our cats.)  

It might seem like not such a big deal to consider what happens to your digital assets after you die — you’re dead! Who cares! But who you are in your online life, may not necessarily be the person your loved ones know. And not in an “I lived a secret life as an arms-dealing polygamist performance artist — Surprise!” But more as in, this is a problem you might encounter when you consider that correspondence is only ever intended for the people it’s sent between in the first place. For one example: you might discover someone you knew, to have been especially hard-bitten and shrewd in their business dealings, and this would colour their character in a way that might upset you — if you’d read through dozens of emails in which they acted brutally with others.  

Or, to be more blunt: I have a Yahoo address that goes back to my mid-teens. There is no way in hell I would ever consent to my significant others having access to my tortured, and no doubt poorly worded, teenage love letters.  

There are countless hypotheticals for this: sensitive business correspondence (like an idea you never patented); explicit emails (with photo attachments) from lovers; a note to yourself about how much you hated your mother. Any of these private thoughts could be things that you want to remain private after you’re gone.  

We’ve heard plenty about the downsides, but equally, there are instances in which you might want your family to have access to your digital assets, like a PayPal account, or any other monetary assets you’d want your next of kin to have access to, but that will require password access for them to do so. And there are more sentimental things, like photos and letters — or an entire lifecast, if that’s what you want to do — that would let people in your life know who you were to a degree that hasn’t been possible until now. I remember the thrill of finding old photos of my father that his family sent to me after he died; it was a window into his life, who he was as a young man, that I had no real knowledge of. And they were only a few images. The sheer deluge of imagery, video and information about ourselves that we now share will likely make those kinds of discoveries a thing of the past.  

So, what to do with your digital assets for now? Back up your data. Make hardcopies of vital information. Stipulate in your will what you want to have done with your digital assets, and who can access which parts of them (though, it’s unclear at the moment which laws would be applicable in which territories, as many web services are hosted overseas. When you use these services — whether email, social network or photo or video sharing site — you’ve agreed to their terms and conditions which might not be impacted by other countries laws, according to the Australian Law Society). Keep an up to date list of your passwords on paper in a secure place you have made note of in your will.  

This might seem overcautious, but think about this: it’s predicted that soon there will be more digital information on the web than there is space to host it.  

Also, the machines could just rise up and uplug everything, so better safe than sorry.”
by Elmo Keep.




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