Blog

What’s left behind

March 4, 2020, 11:18 a.m.

What if you kept seeing digital reminders of your dead loved ones, how would it make you feel? What happens to our digital assets once we die?

Digital legacy is something very few of us think about when we post our latest holiday snaps on Facebook or a selfie on Instagram. We think that we own these images, they are of us, our friends and family after all. But what happens to that carefully curated content once we die?

A few weeks ago, we learnt of the sad death of Caroline Flack. Within minutes we were shown her last Instagram posts, within days her family released an unseen post. We are living and dying it would seem in the digital world.

There are countless stories of families losing their loved one’s digital content by lost passwords or social accounts being suspended. There can be lengthy battles ahead to regain those precious memories. There didn’t use to be this problem with handwritten letters or old-fashioned printed photographs and as a society, we need to keep up – both in living and death.

Facebook pages can be memorialised, (essentially this freezes the account in time, but you can’t log-in and change anything), but what happens when there are more of those than anything else? And we are faced with unhappy thoughts from when the person was alive as well as the positive. Do I want, for example, the time I was in hospital permanently there for everyone to see? I’m not convinced that it is helpful for it to be there at all. People are kept suspended in aspic in our digital worlds and there is a distance. A just out of reach distance that could be unsettling and yet is becoming normalised. It makes it easy to leave condolences, but it isn’t the same as doing that in person. Or is that terribly old-school? I also worry that when a loved one dies, I’ll be attached to my phone or laptop desperate for something, anything that is a reminder.

It’s gone a stage further too. In Korea recently, a virtual reality dead child was reunited with a grieving mother. If machines or another person programming a machine can ‘be’ virtual me when I die, what it means to be human is somehow diminished, isn’t it? Is it also extending the loved ones grieving process, is it helpful? Should we even question the ‘best way’ to manage grief when surely it is a very personal thing. Whilst my instinct is to presume corporations taking advantage of our grief, does that even matter if it is helpful? Is it something I would consider? Probably. 

Digital replication of a loved one video - thanks to the Telegraph

And what’s next? What latest innovation will ‘keep’ our loved ones with us, what is being done with all of this data? We could always put it in a virtual ‘cloud’ but then what? The point is, is that there is no point, or purpose, in the same way as our online content as living people has no great goal for the vast majority of us. Often it is our best version displayed to the world and it isn’t always a rounded or accurate picture of our lives. We are all in danger of flicking through other’s content and concentrating much more on our own output and how we think this makes us look. My question here is unless you were very close to the person that has died, would you still be looking at all their stuff a year or so later? I don’t think I would.

You can secure your digital content legally, which is an option many of us haven’t considered. We’ve drifted into our perfect normality that our online life provides without considering the emotional impact on those that remain after us.

Surely our digital profiles like our death should be personal? Would Caroline Flack, for example, have released that unseen post. Probably, but we don’t know. We have a digital legacy, all of us and it would be good if we all decide what happens to it.

Starting to have a conversation about it with your loved ones is a good start. We are in many ways, in new territory, but considering the effect on others is something we can do now.

Talk, plan and share.

#digitallegacy #digitalassests #thebigconversations #talkplanshare

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