It might sound like something out of science fiction, but the digital afterlife is very real and affects nearly all of us, whether we like it or not. Digital afterlife is the presence and information that lives online when you’re gone. If you, or your care recipient, access the internet, odds are you have data on the internet!
If you access the internet, post to social media, talk to friends and family online, or even store files on your computer or phone, your data will live on long after you’re gone. That data is known as your “digital afterlife,” and tech companies still don’t know exactly what to do with it.
Has Facebook every urged you to post “happy birthday” on the page of a friend who passed away. You might tag a photo with that friend, prompting the social media site to post the photo on that friend’s timeline, as though they’re still active online.
Here’s a list of what you might leave behind as your digital afterlife:
- Social media accounts
This is what people typically think of when they picture a “digital afterlife.” But social media isn’t the only place your personality and data live digitally.
Whether they’re personal or business-related, emails you compose reflect the way you speak. They also contain information about you, your relationships, and your life.
- Computer files
Imagine what information a person could glean about you from the files on your computer. The files and their data—including the names of files and when they were created—are a key part of your digital assets.
- USB files
The same is true of files you keep stored on USB, external hard drives, or other storage devices.
Most people now have smartphones that can access the internet and store a good amount of data. Internal data from your phone, including contacts and photos, as well as your browsing data and app data, are part of your digital afterlife.
- Password accounts
Any online account that requires you to create a username and password is part of your digital afterlife, too. That means bank accounts, shopping accounts, and even forums.
- Cloud services
If you use a cloud storage service like iCloud, Google Drive, or OneDrive, you have personal files housed on a server. Those files and their data are part of your digital afterlife.
Managing Your Digital Life: Now and After Death
Many of us don’t have a full picture of our online and digital presence. We might have dozens of online accounts that we’ve completely forgotten about. Where to start? Go through the steps outlined below for a better understanding of your digital presence. This process can help you while you’re still alive, too. Combing through and downsizing your digital assets is a smart way to declutter your life, as well as keep your digital afterlife safe.
STEP # 1 Know where you are on the internet and digitally. First, you’ll need to identify where you’re keeping all of your digital assets.
STEP # 2 Outline your entire digital life. Go through the list below, and write down every location that you personally have a digital presence. Part of it might look something like this:
- iPhone (usually on my person)
- USBs (three of them, in my desk)
- Online Accounts
- Cloud storage like Dropbox
- Shopping accounts like Amazon or eBay
- Service accounts like Grammarly
- Any paid online service that has a recurring fee!
STEP # 3 Record your passwords. Go back to your outline and write down your username and password, as well as any other applicable information, for each device or account. You could also use a password manager.
STEP # 4 Assign legacy contacts. Some social media sites, like Facebook, allow you to assign a legacy contact. This is the person who will have control of your account if you die. They’ll be able to memorialize your Facebook account and take other actions, too.
STEP # 5 Include your digital afterlife in your end-of-life plan. An end-of-life plan includes things that help your family tie up your affairs when you’re gone. That can be a legal will, a letter of instruction, and/or a Power of Attorney. In your letter of instruction, you should consider adding a section about your digital afterlife and what your beneficiary or executor should do with it. Give instructions on how to locate your outline that you created, above, which should include your passcodes and other information for managing your digital afterlife. Give specific instructions, like, “Please post this message on my timeline, and then delete the account after one month.”
How to manage & delete digital accounts
What do you want to happen to your digital accounts when you die? These are a part of our everyday life, but we don’t usually think about what will happen to them when we’re gone. How you manage your accounts today affects what happens to them in the future. Talking to your family and creating a digital afterlife plan is the best way to make sure your accounts are handled according to your wishes.
- How to Memorialize a Facebook Account: Step-By-Step by Yvonne Bertovich
Protecting digital assets & photos
It’s essential to protect your digital assets, photos, and online privacy. What will happen to your accounts, passwords, and files when you’re gone? You need to take steps today to protect your digital afterlife in the future. Whether you want your family to take over your accounts, save your photos, or delete everything, this is a conversation worth having sooner rather than later.
- 7 Steps to Protect Your Digital Assets After Death by Laura Leavitt, MA
Social media & your digital afterlife
Posting on social media is the new normal, and it’s changed the way we connect with friends and family. What happens to your online profiles when you’re no longer here? Your social media is a part of your digital afterlife, and it’s a part of your story. It’s up to you what you want to happen to your social media profiles when you’re gone, whether you memorialize them, delete them, or leave them for friends and family.
- 6 Steps to Make Your Digital Legacy Plan by Yvonne Bertovich
- Ohman, Carl & Floridi, Luciano. “An ethical framework for the digital afterlife industry.” 09 April 2018. www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0335-2
- Digital Afterlife Explained: What It Means & What You Can Do About It
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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