Inheriting digital identities and the mess therein

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In a world that is increasingly satisfied with digital versions of analogs of past times, we create more stuff than ever before, it’s stored in evermore efficient ways removing early consternation to archive or delete. Today we just let it grow with “free” online storage often outpacing the typical users needs. There is little incentive to recycle like in the physical world where material is reprocessed or repurposed beyond its accepted lifetime. The hardware bits that store my email will eventually get replaced and one can only hope we know what to do with the fading parts. When I think of waste I have that image of the garbage patch in the Pacific ocean – “this hard drive once stored email – RIP.”

Today, you might inherit a box of photographs from generations past. My daughter will inherit her parents’ and to a lesser extent grandparents’ digital identities – and all that makes you consider – what is it that she gets?

Let’s start with the obvious digital photographs that record her every day since birth. Many only exist on devices that need power to realize them – some only on devices we do not own or know of – ah, the cloud!

She gets the IDs and passwords to web hosting accounts where countless hours have been spent writing, editing and SEOing. It use to be you tried to leave enough behind so that your loved ones were not burdened with untimely expenses of departure. Now, to do right by them, you need a trust to pay for all the digital services we subscribe to. Either that or face the digital trash bin where photos that no longer have any sentimental feelings go.

With Facebook in news with their IPO paper work, I wonder what would happen if for some reason a world disaster occurred deleting 50% of the profiles. Forget the impact to the company, what would people do with all that living gone lost? This criticality speaks to the value people place with FaceBook‘s future, but ultimately should have everyone wondering, what would we do if we actually had to show up to live? Did all that stuff really happen if my timeline doesn’t show it? Is “checking in” proof I did something? How about the GPS coordinates of my phone – is that where I am? Sure glad it’s all for entertainment purposes, for a minute I was getting nervous.

Unfortunately many of our children will likely grow up knowing no other way and reality is subjective making the permanence of things different, not better or worse, just different.