Welcome back SF writers, to the fourth episode of the Mad Inventions Series, or M.I.S. for short, a place to generate ideas for your SF stories based on our technological developments. Today we briefly look at the digital afterlife.
Although the internet has become an intrinsic part of our modern lives overall, very few people (and definitely not the youngest users) are really aware of the effects it will have on our lives … after death. Of course, I am reflecting on the immense amount of information we disseminate globally without even blinking: what will happen to it after we die?
The forty-somethings of today are a generation that grew up without internet and social media, though now they are also amongst the biggest users of it. That makes them, one hopes, much more aware of life ‘before and after the net’ and the repercussions that can have on our digital afterlife.
One of the biggest worries about young adults and the net is the ease with which they share their lives with the ‘social world’, sometimes without bothering about safety, privacy settings or reading the small print on the ‘I Agree’ forms – having said that, how many adults actually read 86 pages of terms and conditions, font size 6? As a girl I was inspired by Anne Frank keeping a diary, so I bought one, or several, with my main worry being to find a safe hiding place for the key which kept it locked! That is until I realised that those locks could be opened with a couple of dry spaghetti sticks. No wonder my mum looked at me funny. One thing is for sure, Anne couldn’t have kept a blog – how long would it have taken the soldiers to find that IP address?
Millions of pictures are uploaded every day, alongside data of all sorts. It’s such a vast and precious cargo that it’s created a new area for crime, generally defined as cyber crime. Often people are ‘downloaded’ onto the net without their permission or knowledge. Take a child for instance. Parents willfully share pictures of their newborns so their relatives and friends can see them, but what they’re effectively doing is creating a digital print for a being. I’m not pointing fingers here, just reflecting on the fact that some human beings are trusting, while others are good at taking advantage of that trust.
Anyway, say, you die; now what? If you’re a practical person you’ve probably written a will: socks to uncle Tim, beer-mat collection to that pesky drunkard Aunt Vera, etc. Your executor will see to that. But what about your digital will? Do you have a digital executor?
Many social sites allow you to authorise another user to take over, let people know funeral arrangements, or you can leave instructions to close the account after your death. Facebook is well prepared for this, and it gives you the chance to download your entire profile and save it onto your desktop. It’s easy enough to check the ‘legacy’ features of your social sites, so next time you’re chill-browsing, you can find out what provisions are in place for your favourite social sites.
Websites exist which allow you to leave messages which are only published/delivered after your death, you could call it a a death-a-gramme, I guess. One of the most comprehensive sites I have seen so far is the recent DeadSocial – I totally love the name by the way! – with easy to follow step by step guides.
Eventually, you may think, “Why bother? Once I’m dead, I’m dead. Who cares what they do with my ‘Hedgehog Shaving Contest’ pictures?” Now, that is a good question. For some people, however, it could be a matter of reputation and what kind of legacy they’re wanting to leave behind.
Writers, I call upon you. In this NaNoWriMo, what are you going to do with the concept of digital afterlife?
In August 2013, when I started writing Tijaran Tales: Tijara’s Heart, I made one of my characters create a new model of space-coffins. These items are highly customisable, a true repository of memories for their occupants. They also carry the ‘death mail‘ feature, which is essentially a video recording by the deceased and covering whatever they wish to share. Obviously, since these coffins are released into space, a death mail comes in handy if said abode is intercepted, boarded (picture that!) or highjacked, as they allow you to introduce yourself, as well as being a bit of a (dead) diplomat for your planet.
To you now:
- Unexpectedly, you have been made the kjdigital executor for a friend you thought you knew well. What kind of surprises has she/he left for you?
- You have illegal access to a friend’s digital trove. What is it and what do you do with it?
- Try to explore the issue from a ‘criminal’ perspective.
- If you lived way in the future, where do you see the development of this technology going?
Right, that should get you thinking. Happy writing!