After taking his enlightening and spirited trip in ‘A Christmas Carol’, Ebenezer Scrooge declared that he would “live in the Past, Present, and the Future.” Life as we know it today makes that possible I suppose, but the question is, do we really want to? And if not, what happens to your online life when you die?

Picture credit: Phil Date

Ok, so this article is a bit of a re-tread, as I have touched on this topic before, but I think it is important enough that it deserves deeper thought…. and apparently the organisers of Digital Death Day agree with me (they’ve got a whole conference planned around the topic!).. This has been discussed up, down and sideways on the web, and I believe it is something that Barbadians need to worry about it as much as anyone. Maybe we don’t give it more than a passing thought because pondering our mortality is a bit of a downer, or because we somehow view what we do online as novel and ephemeral, the latest fad, although by now, I think most of us realise that it really has passed that point…

Last time I checked, there were about 93,000 Barbadians on Facebook (about a third of our population) and who knows how many Bajans are all a-twitter on that and other social media sites. The vast majority of us have e-mail accounts and make frequent use of online banking and shopping options, whether it’s at B.P.W.C.C.U, Capita Financial, or Aladins Treasure Chest. All of this can add up to a substantial digital estate which, much like ‘real’ estate, can lead to its own peculiar brand of issues when we die.

So, how well prepared are you for the e-afterlife?

Think about it – we’ve always been advised that our passwords should be private. “Don’t write them down! Don’t share them!” we’re constantly told. So, in a case of sudden death, all our online assets immediately become inaccessible. For players?/avatars? on sites like Second Life, many of the assets in the game have actual monetary value, which ordinarily would have passed on to relatives of the deceased, but which now, according to the North Carolina Journal of Law and Technology “will expire when we do. Presently, heirs must look to the courts to gain access to the digital assets retained by these companies”.

Thankfully, many companies have realized that there is a problem and have changed their policies to ease the process. Hotmail lets relatives order a CD (people still use CDs??) of all the messages in a deceased user’s account if they provide a death certificate and proof of power of attorney. Gmail requires the same paperwork plus a copy of an e-mail the deceased sent to the petitioner. Photo-storage site Flickr will keep an account up and mostly open to the public, but if a user had marked any photos as private; the site won’t let family or friends into the account to access them. On Facebook you can choose whether to leave a profile up as a memorial (which means no status updates and no voyeuristic new friends) or take it down completely.

Perhaps because this is an ‘online’ problem, maybe the best place to look for a way to deal with it is there. Sites like Legacy Locker, iDeparted, DeathSwitch and VitalLock offer encrypted storage for passwords and other sensitive information.

My advice? Set a beneficiary for your online accumulations, thereby ensuring that the right people have access to both your online bank account and your social media profiles after your passing. Why? Because it always makes sense to pre-plan, that’s why (shameless plug, forgive me).

Meanwhile, for those of you who are interested, here are two ways to ensure that your memory never fades – the E-tomb (which still amazes me) and the memory box.

See? So there is life after death!