Delete my internet history. No but seriously, what am I going to do with all my data when I die? I assume it's going to be a very long time from now, but I can't actually be sure. And I am completely unprepared.
I've been thinking about this occasionally since I read this interview, between webcomic creators Joey Comeau and Ryan North. North talks about what's going to happen with all his online affairs after he dies. His answer, too, is apparently nothing:
Joey: Your career is on computers, and probably a large part of your life is, too. Does anyone else have your passwords? What happens if you die tonight? Will your family be able to get into your email and sort out your affairs? Do you want them to? Have you got a goodbye Dinosaur Comic in your will?
Ryan: I've got nothing. I've come close to setting up a dead man's switch: a program where if I don't check in on it once every week or so, it assumes I'm dead, and goes into action. My final Dinosaur Comic gets posted, friends get pre-composed goodbye emails, enemies get a final "HEY SCREW YOU I'M DEAD BUT I'M STILL KINDA CHEESED AT YOU" message, and important passwords get emailed to my family. But I keep thinking, what if it goes wrong? What if it goes off prematurely and starts trying to tie off the loose ends in my life when I'm still around? It's a risk I haven't taken yet. It might make a good subject for a comic though!
Anyway if you're asking for my passwords they're all "ryaniscool" now.
This is on my mind again today because Cory Doctorow posted an article on Locus Online, The Internet of the Dead, last Friday, and I got around to reading it last night. A friend of his, a much more exhaustively embedded hacker than Ryan North, passed away, and (because no one knew what to do with it) he offered to store the data until his friend's family knew how to deal with it.
Keeping your data on your live, spinning platter means that it will get saved every time you do your regular backup (assuming you perform this essential ritual!), and if the drive starts to fail, you’ll know about it right away. It’s not like dragging an old floppy out of a dusty box and praying that it hasn’t succumbed to bitrot since it was put away.
if you just stick the PC on a shelf or in a box in the basement until you know what to do with the data, there’s a good chance that the data will be lost. When it comes to computers, storage is fraught with peril. The lubricant on the drives’ bearings dries up and the disks seize. They get flooded out, or damp infiltrates them. They get gnawed by rodents, and insects fill them with droppings.
If natural causes don’t get them, then robbery might.
Ultimately Doctorow puts his friend's files on a cloud drive, where they will be held in an archive for 10 years, prepaid.
I'm not good enough with computers to set up my own dead man's switch, and I can't afford to set up my own cloud drive archive of my whole life. But I have thought about putting together an envelope, perhaps with a password to a ZIP file I will keep updated with all my current passwords -- or, the ones that I don't want to have entombed upon my passing. An instruction to locate and post a final blog update, messages to my friends and family, documents appointing artistic and digital executors, and a general outline of what to do if I happen to have some kinds of assets upon my death.
And I think it's a fair bet that I've thought this through more than most of the people I know. Granted, many of them may not have quite as much of their lives on the interwebs. But what data they do have online means something, and for some of them, it might be lost forever.
Or, maybe most of the people I know just share all their passwords with their parents, and I'm more than usually paranoid about this sort of thing.