What happens to my data when I die?

“Hey dude, are you sitting down”?
“I’m always sitting down”
“We lost someone, there’s no other way to say it…”

This was not the conversation I expected to have sat in the middle of an open plan office with no escape late one morning early December 2013.

Many people in the web community have raised the discussion about what happens to your data when you die. Some have talked about putting passwords for services into their will, or the issues faced with services that may be here one day or gone the next, or that when the bill comes up for your domain name and hosting and it isn’t renewed that’s it. Gone, lost from the world.

Having experienced the death of a friend, I wonder how many have considered the ghosts in the machine.

Losing a close friend in my 30’s wasn’t something I was anticipating. For 15 years we had spent Friday nights and weekends together in pubs or at gigs. We shared music, cassettes and CD’s. took photos, made videos, and played video games. We took the same photography course at colleague, and grew up in an age of tape-to-tape hi-speed dubbing and processing your own prints in the dark room.

We were the last generation of phone cards, local independent record stores, renting videos from Blockbuster and going to festivals for the music.

When it came to the funeral arrangements, everyone contributed. On New Year’s Day, I sat with another friend and hundreds of photographs. Prints. We’d even scraped Facebook, and printed out a further 50 or more photographs. Another friend had spent the week converting mini-dv tape to avi, and scraping youtube, Facebook and people’s phones to produce a tribute video.

We stole from the digital world and returned it to the reality of analog. We made something binary into something real. Something which you can put in your hands, or insert into a video player, or dvd player, and experience, touch, feel the texture of the paper, the weight of the book, you can smell the glues, plastics and cards, listen to the whir of cogs spinning into place gripping a playhead or engage a laser to the plastic sheen of a compact disc.

We brought the dead, cold world of glass back to life.

During the funeral ceremony, we heard the saying, which I’ve heard too many times in recent years. As long as there are those with memories of us we live on.

In a strange twist of fate, I have been watching Black Mirror over the last few days. Many of the themes, in what I think may be the greatest science fiction series of all time, focus on the preservation of memories.

Two episodes which hit a very raw nerve featured the breakdown of a family through constant instant replay of past events and a bot service that allows you to talk to the dead. Both episodes play out to show the dangers in holding on to the fragments of people and moments. It makes you think of the risks born from looking at those that have passed with rose tinted glasses, allowing ourselves to manifest them into something that becomes so removed from reality that they fail to uphold the facade of the real deal.

Charlie Brooker has created a future not far enough removed from today to make it improbable but so well observed and crafted that I thought it was impossible.

But I was wrong. My friend, haunts me everywhere I go.

Slowly finding their way to the bottom of my call list are exchanges in conversation. In my messages lies a thread detailing 4 separate arrangements, for 4 separate meet ups at 4 separate gigs. My emails have a number of mails, the subjects simply stated :RE:RE: OI OI!

There is now a follower on my instagram who will never unfollow me, a person who I follow that will never take another photo, or like one of mine, or comment with something pithy about me living in Brighton and being a wannabe scenester.

On Youtube there are hours and hours of video. Gigs performed, attended and appeared in. Youtube may well outlive us all, and as of yet has never removed an account for inactivity.

The most unexpected apparition revealed itself when I turned on my Xbox to see my dear friend, sleeping whilst standing up wearing an oversized pair of denim jeans, t-shirt, baseball cap, that cocky look on his face asking me “Hows that taste”? He’lI never wake up, quietly resting in the friends space on the Xbox servers.

I know that XboxLive is going to exist for at least another 5 years, and after that it may well become something else, but the data on my drive, the one in my hands, in my house, that can survive as long as I wish it to.

Then there’s Facebook. In the last month, without prompting people changed their profile pictures and header images to the fun times we’ve all shared. A face on every post even though it isn’t their words being typed out. It turns out, Facebook is human, and allows you to notify them of someones death and request their page be locked and turned into a memorial. We’ve made the enquiries and will be done shortly.

These digital services, have a lifespan which we all accept, but there’s an impression that these lifespan’s are insufficient.

For now, the moment which I exist in, where oxygen is still passing through my lips, where I can touch things around me and know whether they’re hot, cold, soft or hard. An existence where I can take a strip of film and with chemicals turn it into an image, or press a button and print out a photo which I can look at, enjoy, get lost in for hours just by looking ahead of me. For as long as I can do this without needing to interface with 1 of 99 devices, smashing their dulled keys, or rubbing against their senseless screens before having to open window a,b or c, entering credentials to validate my right to visit my own space, and explore my own things, made with my own hands.

As long as that still exists, these services have a lifespan that is just about right.

Published by

Andy Parker

User Experience Designer, headbanger, biker, skater, gamer from Brighton UK.