Will You Virtually Outlive Yourself?

It's the classic desert island castaway story from the days before modern communications make it harder to be cut off anywhere. The castaway writes a message, seals it in a bottle and throws it out to sea. The hope is that one day the ocean currents will take it where it will be washed up on some distant shore. Someone will read it, understand and send a rescue boat.

Even if rescue comes too late, at least someone will know the castaway was there. It's an act of faith that someone somewhere will take an interest. Rather like burying a time capsule under a church floor, as has been done recently in a church where I serve. Is it buried for ever? Or will it one day be found by future restorers, stone masons or archaeologists? If it's found, what will the finder make of the contents? Will they understand the language or will English usage have changed out of all recognition?

It was a really interesting post a month ago by Vicky Beeching about 'How do we handle death online?' that set me off on this train of thought. I started a blog post in response and it has sat in my 'draft posts' box ever since. Vicky refers to the project of Adele McAlear at Death and Digital Legacy.com who explores the
"relationship between death, social media and technology through research, speaking and writing about digital legacy. She seeks to help people understand the personal, social, legal and business implications of all that they leave behind."
She raises pertinent questions about digital legacy, such as:
* What should you consider about your digital legacy today?
* What are the business implications of death online?
* How is technology changing the mourning process?
* How do families deal with a digital legacy?
* What are the policies of the online services?
* Who owns your content after you’ve passed on?
* What policies do online services have for digital legacy?”
Some of my blog posts are written in advance of a pre-scheduled automatic publishing time and date.  I could die between saving and publishing, but the post would still publish. Would that be a problem for my family and friends, if I appear to virtually outlive myself by publishing a new post after my death? Some people schedule their tweets in advance on Twitter. What if they die before publication? My gallows humour suggests that 'rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated' might be a suitable tweet in such circumstances.

I'm grateful to those who are asking these questions. Getting to grips with the personal implications is going to take me a little longer than finishing this post.

What about you? Have you got it all sorted? Do your nearest and dearest know if or how they could close your on-line accounts or announce your death on Facebook or anywhere else?  If you blog, have you thought of drafting a post mortem post to be published only in the event of your death? How could that be arranged anyway? But meanwhile, for who knows how long, our virtual lives will continue after our deaths like messages in bottles that someone might read and understand years later.

Image (CC): Monochrome Message in a Bottle by Jens Auer


  1. I sometimes wonder if anyone would notice if a blog went unwritten for a long period? People may wonder about the author but put the absence down to being too busy perhaps?

  2. Frankly I don't think it matters. Not in my case anyway.
    Since I have neither parents, husband nor children, and only two of my three brothers ever read my blogs and they, presumably, would be aware of my death.
    I quite like the idea of my blogs, warts and all, circulating indefinitely, or at least, until any commenters became tired of the lack of response.

  3. Thanks for your comments Chelliah and Ray. I'm not bothered about the blog posts published before my death continuing in cyberspace ad infinitum. I think what does bother me is the idea that if there are pre-scheduled posts these will publish after my death and potentially cause distress to people who care that I've died.

  4. Interesting post, Nancy. The scheduled posts thing wouldn't be a problem for me as I've only done it twice and each time just for fun. I like to be around to deal with comments.

    I rather like the idea that my words will outlive me and may come up on a Google search after my death. If they were worth reading when I was alive, surely they are worth reading after I'm gone?


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