While going through my RSS feeds, I noticed that the last update from Graffiti Research Lab was memorial to the death of one of their members, Florian Hufsky.
I have no idea who he was. What is interesting though, is that the memorial linked to eight of his websites/accounts. He died on 12/16/2009, and his last tweet was on 12/02/2009 at 1:11pm. He still has 255 followers. Mostly I suspect because unfollowing an orphaned account is more costly than just letting it be. Although, I’m sure some might keep following it out of sentimental reasons.
That got me thinking about the detritus of life. It’s depressing to think that most of our “important” possessions are going to end up in the dump, simply because our survivors already have their own “important” possessions. But now we’re living significant parts of our lives online. Gone are the days letters, replaced by emails, forum posts, and social networks. (At least Twitter is safe… sort of.) Spread out across countless Internet sites and abandoned password protected accounts, the detritus is left. Even in life this stuff builds up. An abandoned Friendster account here. An Orkut account that you can’t log in to because of a database change there. A rarely used Hotmail account over there.
NPR’s All Things Considered recently aired a story about a dead Fodor’s Online user, Robespierre. Once a very active and respected contributor, he mysteriously disappeared from the forums, until someone confirmed the suspicions, he was dead. Now his posts live on in a database somewhere, occasionally showing up in searches.
Bruce Sterling got spam advertising MentoMori, a service that allows you to post instructions on how to deactivate your online presence. Why you would give all your account information to an unknown third party, I don’t know. If you really want something like that. Just put the information in a safe deposit box, and and leave the key with an attorney. (Of course, something like the old Man Show skit, where your death alerts “cleaners” to make your life look less embarrassing (e.g. replacing your porn collection with the Bible), might be more useful.)
I really doubt that anyone would use a service like MentoMori, but maybe something like this should exist. At least in an attempt to save some of our papers for our descendants dig through and occasionally laugh at. Instead, it will all be lost, and our own personal Digital Dark Age will begin.