What’s your digital legacy?

Whether it’s a drunk driver, a heart attack or just plain old age, we all go sooner or later.

Your Will probably specifies who will receive whatever things you own, and names an executor to handle the disposition.

Your instructions probably include who will get your computer. But have you thought about the things on the computer?

Your digital legacy

Karori Cemetery in Wellington, New Zealand.

Karori Cemetery in Wellington, New Zealand.

What about your photos, documents, movies you’ve made, your email, your Twitter and Facebook accounts? Who will have authority over them once you’re gone?

And more to the point, who will be able to access them? Who has the relevant usernames and passwords?

These things — your Facebook status updates, your photos on Flickr, your tweets from the camping holiday — these form part of your digital legacy.

A new awareness

The New Zealand Law Society are trying to raise awareness about the issues around our digital lives. See their article Law Society says to consider “digital legacy” when making a will.

They also have a useful Digital Legacy checklist and information on web service policies.

Start planning now

Start to think about what you would want to happen after your death. Should someone notify your friends and followers on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and other services you use? Would you want somebody to remove your material from those services, or to leave it there as a memorial?

What about your blog? What will happen to that work once you’re gone? What about other services you use or places where you’ve added or created work?

One of my Internet buddies, Derek Miller in Vancouver, is dying of cancer. In August 2010 he wrote a very interesting post, The curse of online identity. He also references another post, Digital executors and what happens to your online stuff. It’s worth reading both his articles.

Update: since this article was written Derek has passed away.

As we live more and more of our lives in the digital realm we are becoming more aware of the consequences and ramifications of that online life. Start thinking now about what it means for you, however hard it may be to consider.

Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, June 2011. This article has been modified for publication here.