By Quentin Fottrell
Those who thought gravestones with barcodes were creepy are unlikely to “like” the latest evolution of digital immortality: Tweeting, emailing and updating Facebook from the other side.
People can do little to erase their digital footprint after they die, but some are at least trying to have the last word. For 99 cents, the iPhone app “If I Die” could probably be more accurately named “When I Die.” It gives Facebook users one last posthumous status update. The running gag for some gravestones (“I told you I was sick”) could be one option. But might some people who are terminally ill or depressed be tempted to use it as suicide note? Eran Alfonta – CEO and founder of Willook.com, which created the app – says he created it so people could preserve their legacy and commune with the living in a kind of online séance. “Kings and emperors had the privilege to create monuments like the Pyramids in Giza, the Taj Mahal in Agra or the Temple in Jerusalem, in order to tell their stories,” he says.
Other sites allow people to leave behind videos, voice recordings and photographs too. Some Facebook pages have become “memorials” after a person’s death at the request of relatives/friends – with videos, stories and photographs. Another site, 1000Memories.com, has a commercial partnership with the Internet Archive, the digital memory bank of the Library of Congress. Rudy Adler, co-founder of 1000Memories.com, says it’s a free service and the photos will last “forever.” But he will start charging for large storage space, though he hasn’t decided exactly how much. “We have some users who dump thousands of memories on our site,” he says. Alfonta says he too will soon start offering a premium service allowing people to record and release video by email every year for decades, or as long as his company is in operation.
Of course, many are skeptical about posthumous social networking updates and websites, especially if the company goes under before the person dies. “Companies are making money off people’s fear of dying,” says social psychologist and entrepreneur Matt Wallaert. He says posthumous etiquette would be better served sending a personalized letter. But Alfonta says he founded his company with two others – a sociologist and a psychologist who specialized in mourning and cultural death rituals, and says he has a cloud that stores information on a server that will work for five years “even if we’re not here, for some reason.” He says many people will want to leave a digital postcard behind to say, “I was here on this planet, I did some things in this world, I want to tell my story and I want my story to be heard.”
But the trend of post-death communication appears to be growing — and not just for social networkers. Sites like AfterSteps.com and GreatGoodbye.com can send a posthumous email for estate planning purposes. AssetLock.net, previously known as the more blunt YouDeparted.com, charges $9.95 per year for 20 megabytes of storage or $240 for a “lifetime membership” with 5 gigabytes of storage. It stores digital copies of important documents, passwords, codes, account numbers and final wishes. Steven J. Weisman, a lawyer for the American Institute for Economic Research, says people should also include domain names and passwords in these files. He says it can be a “critical part” of protecting the deceased from identity theft after death. Other sites specialize in recording audio recordings which could, perhaps, be used as “Happy Birthday” messages far into the future.