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Technology Breathes New Life into Death

What’s your online legacy?

With the evolution of technology, as a society we are becoming more and more engrossed in the online world. Social networks are a huge part of our everyday lives, virtually all banking can be done online, almost every utility and bill service offers a ‘paperless’ billing (convenient AND eco-friendly). The majority of business and interpersonal communication is done virtually, on the web – by 2020 there will be essentially no reason to ever talk to another human face to face.

Maybe a little extreme (or maybe not) – I wont go all tech-apocalypse on you guys – but with technology already a huge part of our everyday LIVES,  it’s becoming more and more important to consider our online affairs once we move on to the afterlife.

Think about all of the social networks you’re a part of – what about all you’re passwords for online finance management? Consider all of the connections, friendships, and relationships you’ve established in various online communities. While online legacies are becoming increasingly prominent to a person’s ‘real’ life – how will your online affairs be held accountable once you die? How can the news be passed along to the individuals ‘online community’. Enter web-based ‘death alert service’ DeathSwitch.

RE: Are you alive?

Deathswitch allows a person essentially upload a limitless amount of online information. Passwords, bank account information, social networking connections, and so on. Want to pass along your password information to your significant other, maybe you have a secret you want people to know once you pass away. Deathswitch allows you to upload both text and media (video/audio recordings) that will be automatically sent out once the site has been notified of your death.

A deathswitch is an automated system that prompts you for your password on a regular schedule to make sure you are still alive. When you do not enter your password for some (set) period of time, the system prompts you again several times. With no reply, the computer deduces you are dead or critically disabled, and your pre-scripted message and information are automatically emailed to those named by you.

There are some slightly less morbid online services that don’t send the ‘Are you still alive?’ emails (Slightly Morbid, for example, sends e-mails when a member dies, but does not rely on them logging in periodically to confirm there existence – instead, members give family or friends the information needed to log in and start the notification process). Just make sure you trust the people you give your information to – wouldn’t want someone claiming your dead and setting free all your deepest darkest secrets while you’re still alive and kicking.

Technology is truly effecting everything in life (and now death). How do you feel about these online ‘death notification’ services? Can technology go ‘too far’? Is there any end in site to the services modern technology can continue to provide?

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12 Comments

    • I know Ben. It’s a little morbid to think about, but with the way technology is continuing to take over our ‘real’ lives – managing our online affairs is becoming just as legitimate as our ‘offline’ ones.

      Isn’t it funny how we continue to separate our online and offline lives? Aren’t they, collectively, both a part of our ‘real’ lives. Why do you think we distinguish the two? Why does there continue to be such a disconnect of the two. Try explaining that your fellow bloggers and Twitter-folk are your ‘friends’ – a lot of people will laugh at you.

      Totally different subject – but something to think about, and something I plan to pursue (perhaps in a future post) here at LWP.

    • I know Ben. It’s a little morbid to think about, but with the way technology is continuing to take over our ‘real’ lives – managing our online affairs is becoming just as legitimate as our ‘offline’ ones.

      Isn’t it funny how we continue to separate our online and offline lives? Aren’t they, collectively, both a part of our ‘real’ lives. Why do you think we distinguish the two? Why does there continue to be such a disconnect of the two. Try explaining that your fellow bloggers and Twitter-folk are your ‘friends’ – a lot of people will laugh at you.

      Totally different subject – but something to think about, and something I plan to pursue (perhaps in a future post) here at LWP.

  1. Wow. I had no idea that death notification across the internet exists but it’s hardly surprising, is it? At first, I thought it was unnecessarily intrusive but then I realized that what these services actually are are modern obituaries. After all, isn’t that what death notices are all about? Letting other people know you’ve passed away?

    I still think it’s creepy to an extent and I echo Benjamin’s response above but on the other hand, it’s an imminently practical response to the newspaper (and if the news outlets are right, apparently the traditional newspaper is on its deathbed…) obituary.

    It might actually be a neat idea, the ability to write your own obit that will be sent out to your network when you pass on (although having written my own obit before for a sociology class, it’s harder than you think!). Sort of like one last message from you before you leave.

    It’s also interesting to me, Matt, how you framed your question, “Is there any end in sight (site?) to the services modern technology can continue to provide”. Probably not but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Technology, like almost everything else, is a tool for communications and transactions. I think what is more critical to question is how these services are used and what their ultimate purpose is–in other words, the ethical use of the services. Whether there is any end in sight is irrelevant, in my opinion; what you do with it is what matters. Because what is hot and hip today is passe tomorrow online and what is vitally important today will be improved or surpassed in a few years. So the basic answer to the question is–no, there’s no end in sight but I would argue that the further point is why does it matter?

    • @Mandy – thanks for your thoughts here – in looking at this from a business perspective, the creators of these services are smart to recognize the shifting trends in technology – our online lives are becoming a huge part of our ‘real ones’ – the friends and relationships we make here are legitimate and will be considered by each of us once we pass.

      Also, I think you pose an interesting view on my question regarding technologies evolution and there being no clear end in sight. I agree that it comes down to the ethical use of a tool that will inevitably continue to develop. I guess a part of me worries that technology is going to become TOO big in our lives, that personal communication will continue to become more and more obsolete – and then what does that say about our society. I’m worried that the dependency on the internet is becoming too great – I think part of that fear is simply the unknown, not knowing what new advancement is coming and how it will offect us as a society. This is obviously a completely new issue – but something I (and probably a lot of us) think about a lot.

  2. Wow. I had no idea that death notification across the internet exists but it’s hardly surprising, is it? At first, I thought it was unnecessarily intrusive but then I realized that what these services actually are are modern obituaries. After all, isn’t that what death notices are all about? Letting other people know you’ve passed away?

    I still think it’s creepy to an extent and I echo Benjamin’s response above but on the other hand, it’s an imminently practical response to the newspaper (and if the news outlets are right, apparently the traditional newspaper is on its deathbed…) obituary.

    It might actually be a neat idea, the ability to write your own obit that will be sent out to your network when you pass on (although having written my own obit before for a sociology class, it’s harder than you think!). Sort of like one last message from you before you leave.

    It’s also interesting to me, Matt, how you framed your question, “Is there any end in sight (site?) to the services modern technology can continue to provide”. Probably not but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Technology, like almost everything else, is a tool for communications and transactions. I think what is more critical to question is how these services are used and what their ultimate purpose is–in other words, the ethical use of the services. Whether there is any end in sight is irrelevant, in my opinion; what you do with it is what matters. Because what is hot and hip today is passe tomorrow online and what is vitally important today will be improved or surpassed in a few years. So the basic answer to the question is–no, there’s no end in sight but I would argue that the further point is why does it matter?

    • @Mandy – thanks for your thoughts here – in looking at this from a business perspective, the creators of these services are smart to recognize the shifting trends in technology – our online lives are becoming a huge part of our ‘real ones’ – the friends and relationships we make here are legitimate and will be considered by each of us once we pass.

      Also, I think you pose an interesting view on my question regarding technologies evolution and there being no clear end in sight. I agree that it comes down to the ethical use of a tool that will inevitably continue to develop. I guess a part of me worries that technology is going to become TOO big in our lives, that personal communication will continue to become more and more obsolete – and then what does that say about our society. I’m worried that the dependency on the internet is becoming too great – I think part of that fear is simply the unknown, not knowing what new advancement is coming and how it will offect us as a society. This is obviously a completely new issue – but something I (and probably a lot of us) think about a lot.

  3. I totally agree with the fact that friends you have meet in person could laugh at you about saying you have twitter and blog friends. I mean to me, that sounds like one step away from World of Warcraft right? There is nothing wrong with games like World of Warcraft, but its just not my style. However, I have enjoyed the community that comes with blogging and Twitter much more than I realized I would when I started Twitting. I would definitely enjoy meeting people that commented on my blog to have a beer or grab a sandwich if I was in their area. I feel that this is changing already, and possibly in a few years, it could be more normal to meet people online than in person. I will be looking forward to when you expand on this topic for another blog post.

    • Ben, I am with you there – plenty of you folks are people I would be happy to go grab a beer with and be ‘real life’ friends with. It’s jut funny how we all (myself included) continue to make a clear distinction between our online and offline lives. Not sure why we make that distinction, and we are clearly STARTING to see more of an integration, but there are still plenty of ‘offline’ people who think folks like us are crazy.

  4. I totally agree with the fact that friends you have meet in person could laugh at you about saying you have twitter and blog friends. I mean to me, that sounds like one step away from World of Warcraft right? There is nothing wrong with games like World of Warcraft, but its just not my style. However, I have enjoyed the community that comes with blogging and Twitter much more than I realized I would when I started Twitting. I would definitely enjoy meeting people that commented on my blog to have a beer or grab a sandwich if I was in their area. I feel that this is changing already, and possibly in a few years, it could be more normal to meet people online than in person. I will be looking forward to when you expand on this topic for another blog post.

    • Ben, I am with you there – plenty of you folks are people I would be happy to go grab a beer with and be ‘real life’ friends with. It’s jut funny how we all (myself included) continue to make a clear distinction between our online and offline lives. Not sure why we make that distinction, and we are clearly STARTING to see more of an integration, but there are still plenty of ‘offline’ people who think folks like us are crazy.