If you disappear from the public view in the offline world, people may notice. Those that want to know where you are, or how you are, may call you or visit your home in person. In the online world, however, unless you have listed your offline contact information, the only way to contact you is through the online world.
What would happen if you died, and the online people had no other information about your existence other than your online accounts? If you died, would anyone online know that you simply stopped breathing, or would people assume that you simply decided to spend more time offline? What will happen to your online accounts after your death?
Noticing your offline disappearance online
Dying in the offline world can instantly mean that you would not be logging into any of your online accounts, unless your computer is already logged in and someone else starts using your computer. If it is your tendency, and habit, to be offline for many days, people online may not notice your absence until it has been a bit longer than usual amount of time, like weeks or months.
What happens when you stop going online? Your online status accounts on Facebook, Twitter, BrightKite and other places will look like they have not been updated in a while. Your e-mail accounts may start bouncing, because some free e-mail accounts deactivate if you have not logged in for 3 months. If you have your own website and an e-mail account related to that website, your website may go offline within 2 months due to non-payment of the monthly hosting fees. That can be a big clue that you are either going offline, or that you are really going offline. A lot of people then may start assuming that either you have changed your domain name, or that you have decided to take a break from the online world. Some people may immediately start wondering if you have also decided to take a break from the offline world.
Do you have a backup plan?
In cases of death, or in cases of not being able to go online anymore, some people may be inclined by the idea of coming up with a backup plan to have their online accounts taken care of. Do you have a backup online plan that deals with the fate of your online accounts in case you die? Would you want someone specific to get access to all your passwords and accounts so that they can continue your posting frenzy? Is there any entity out there that you would want to go online to tell the rest of the world that the amazing you has passed away? Who would take care of your online accounts? Who will voluntary take care of them?
Online services to share your secrets, with your approval, after you die
A service called Death Switch aims to help you with this exact backup plan. After you sign up with them, you will tell Death Switch what kind of an e-mail and what attachments to e-mail if you die or go missing. The service sends you e-mails on a regular basis which you have to check and click links within. If you stop clicking the links in those e-mails, for reasons like death or boredom, the service will eventually send your super secret e-mail, that you dictated when signing up for the service, to the people of your choice. Such an e-mail can contain secrets, long lost thoughts, and even the picture of the real Zodiac. Legacy Locker, Great Good Bye and Vital Lock are other such services that offer either service plans, to meet the needs of ever dying soul that wishes to transmit information from beyond the grave, like Sadako.
One sole use of the services like Death Switch and Legacy Locker could indeed be to share your passwords with someone, because, as Elinor Mills for Cnet reported, not sharing passwords can result in more headache than many people realize after they die. While the analysis of the overall “If I die what will happen to my twitter account?” thought and reviews of services like Legacy Locker are interesting, it is even more interesting to question if we should actually care about the online world in case of our deaths or amazing disappearance.
Are automated notify-after-your-death services necessary in your life?
However, since such services are automated, what if you simply go on a vacation without remembering that you have to click on the verification links? What if you lose all your passwords in a laptop fire? Regardless, any form of a backup plan that involves sending messages to specific people in case of your disappearance, or online inactivity can result in your “Yes, I am gay!!!“, “You SUCK as a boss you $^#*@(@& @)@*@* – I hope you rot in hell & I &*( on your corpse from heaven!!“, and “I married you to be close to your older brother….” e-mails will surely reach the shining and living e-mail inboxes of your parents, your boss and your spouse. And they may indeed make your life more amazingly complex if you were on vacation and forgot about clicking the verification links from the above services.
What Ryanne Lai shows happens to your e-mails after you die
Here is a nice presentation by Ryanne Lai as to what happens to something like your e-mails after you die:
by Ryanne Lai
What happens to your online things in case you do not take care of them?
The idea of figuring out what to do with something like a website and an e-mail account has been around for a while. Dylon Boyd from Eroi.com has already asked “What the heck happens to your email accounts when you die?” MSNBC has asked the question “After your death, how will the information be located?“
Now comes a very important question. What happens to your Facebook account after you die? What happens to your MySpace, Twitter and Flickr accounts? What happens to your ICQ and AIM accounts? What happens to your Yahoo Mail and Hotmail e-mail accounts? What do you think will happen to them, and what would you like to happen to them? If you do not have a backup plan, will you be able to let someone know about your online accounts, if you wish, right before your death bed, or the ambulance bed? Even more interesting, what happens to your computer after your death?
Can you be an Online Account Donor?
Like Organ donors, would you be willing to donate your online account to a worthy cause? Would you give your MySpace account to your friend, or the Red Cross if they could use it to promote their services? Would you want anyone else to have your online account once you die? Would you donate your online account, whether it be your e-mail or your Facebook account, to a relative, a company, a friend, a neighbor, or a randomly stranger on the first bus that passes your house after 48 hours of your death, picked randomly by a lottery number? Would you be willing to carry around a government-issued, or a self-printed picture id, with the words “Bes The Online Account Donor – details on my MySpace & Facebook profile!” card1? Would you like to an an Online Account Donor? You would, of course, have the choice of donating all of parts of your online accounts, like donating your Facebook photos area to someone, and your notes area to someone else. Theoretically, of course.
Should you have a backup plan?
Now comes the real question from my thought. Is there any need for you to let anyone online know that you are dead? Do people want to go on their Twitter accounts and see “Hey, this is Kylie’s friend. He r died! I r za new acount ownar! add meee biatches! xoxo“? Do people want to get up at 2am and check their Facebook friends feed to read “Phil has died“, with a way to give a thumbs up vote to that news entry and a way to remove the dead Phil from your living friends list? Heather Spencer, from the OK Gazette, says that “closing out your Facebook, blog and Twitter accounts must be added to the list” of things the family and friends of a deceased person must address. If any of such family members or friends do decide to close your account, should they let everyone else know that you are dead?
We can compare this briefly to your offline ideas of death, if you have any. Do you have an offline will? Now, regardless of the answer to that question, would you like to have an online will? Do you have any messages to share with others once you die? Should you have any will or directions for anyone to have your passwords transferred to someone after your death? Any messages to be posted on your site? Should you have such plans?
If you die, will anyone online find out about it? If you die, what will happen to your online accounts?
So we are now at the main big question. If you die, what will happen to your online accounts? Is that something you should think about? Is it something that you think may be something important to consider? Or do you think letting online people know about your death is not important? Do you think it is not important to have your online accounts taken care of after your death? If you die, what will happen to your online life? What happens to your emails, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, pictures, writings, any online earnings or files, etc? Would anyone online find out about your death?
One thing is for sure: If you die, your online accounts will surely find out about it through inactivity and the absence of love or abuse. Ohhh, the trauma for your online accounts!
Please let me know what you think, or if you have any questions, comments, or anything else on your mind, you can share them by leaving a comment below. I now have to go and see where the offline world takes me.
Thank you for reading. I really appreciate it.
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- Replaced with your name, of course! [↩]