All is petty, inconstant, and perishable

So said Marcus Aurelius. Today’s short article is about what happens after you die. We’re all aware of the importance of making a will, particularly if you have dependants. But that’s primarily for your analogue, offline life. What about your digital life?

In a recent TechCrunch article, Jon Evans writes:

I really wish I hadn’t had cause to write this piece, but it recently came to my attention, in an especially unfortunate way, that death in the modern era can have a complex and difficult technical aftermath. You should make a will, of course. Of course you should make a will. But many wills only dictate the disposal of your assets. What will happen to the other digital aspects of your life, when you’re gone?

Jon Evans

The article points to a template for a Digital Estate Planning Document which you can use to list all of the places that you’re active. Interestingly, the suggestion is to have a ‘digital executor’, which makes sense as the more technical you are the more likely that other members of your family might not be able to follow your instructions.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on digital wills has some very specific advice of which the above-mentioned document is only a part:

  1. Appoint someone as online executor
  2. State in a formal document how profiles and accounts are handled
  3. Understand privacy policies
  4. Provide online executor list of websites and logins
  5. State in the will that the online executor must have a copy of the death certificate

I hadn’t really thought about this, but the chances of identity theft after someone has died are as great, if not greater, as when they were alive:

An article by Magder in the newspaper The Gazette provides a reminder that identity theft can potentially continue to be a problem even after death if their information is released to the wrong people. This is why online networks and digital executors require proof of a death certificate from a family member of the deceased person in order to acquire access to accounts. There are instances when access may still be denied, because of the prevalence of false death certificates.


Zooming out a bit, and thinking about this from my own perspective, it’s a good idea to insist on good security practices for your nearest and dearest. Ensure they know how to use password managers and use two-factor authentication on their accounts. If they do this for themselves, they’ll understand how to do it with your accounts when you’re gone.

One thing it’s made think about is the length of time for which I renew domain names. I tend to just renew mine (I have quite a few) on a yearly basis. But what if the worst happened? Those payment details would be declined, and my sites would be offline in a year or less.

All of this makes me think that the important thing here is to keep things as simple as possible. As I’ve discussed in another article, the way people remember us after we’re gone is kind of important.

Most of us could, I think, divide our online life into three buckets:

  • Really important to my legacy
  • Kind of important
  • Not important

So if, for example, I died tomorrow, the domain renewal for Thought Shrapnel lapsed next year, and a scammer took it over, that would be terrible. It’s part of the reason why I still renew domains I don’t use. So this would go in the ‘really important to my legacy’ bucket.

On the other hand, my experiments with various tools and platforms I’m less bothered about. They would probably go in the ‘not important’ bucket.

Then there’s that awkward middle space. Things like the site for my doctoral thesis when the ‘official’ copy is in the Durham University e-Theses repository.

Ultimately, it’s a conversation to have with those close to you. For me, it’s on my mind after the death of a good friend and so something I should get to before life goes back to some version of normality. After all, figuring out someone else’s digital life admin is the last thing people want when they’re already dealing with grief.


Add yours →

  1. Thank you for the reflection Doug. I must admit that it is not something that I had necessarily thought about. I think in regards to social media, it makes me glad that I have scripts setup to constantly delete my content.

    • Yes, I’m deleting my tweets every month automatically. I think it’s Telegram that, by default, deletes your account after six months of inactivity. Sounds like something other platforms should adopt!

  2. Thank you for the reflection Doug. I must admit that it is not something that I had necessarily thought about. I think in regards to social media, it makes me glad that I have scripts setup to constantly delete my content.

  3. The kids will be alright?!?!
    Digitally Lit #216 – 9/28/2019

    Hi all, my name is Ian O’Byrne and welcome to issue #216 of Digitally Literate.

    Thank you for stopping by. Please subscribe if you would like this to show up in your email inbox.

    Feel free to send along links, notes, and news you think I should include in this work. I had a great email discussion with Bryan Alexander about apprenticeships, education, and what the future may hold. You can support Bryan and his work on Patreon, or better yet…bring him in for a workshop.

    This week I posted the following:

    Blogging as Open Scholarship Practice – My thoughts about blogging in my scholarship, and the challenges and opportunities as I strive to embed these practices in my everyday work.Greta Thunberg sings Swedish Death Metal (2:05)

    On Monday, 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg lost it at the United Nations, calling out world leaders for parading her around and asking for her words of hope rather than actually do anything about the dying planet around them.

    Now, a YouTuber has set Greta’s tirade to death metal, and the result proves just how hardcore the teenage activist truly is.

    Why is Greta Thunberg so triggering for certain men?

    As detailed in last week’s issue, the Global Climate Strike brought the attention of the planet to our growing threat. Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish environmentalist was one of the most prominent voices in this initiative.

    As Thunberg spoke out, the criticism, rage, and threats leveled against her have been astonishing.

    In The Irish Times, Jennifer O’Connell posits that this might be caused by the inability of some to consider the consequences of our choices. Instead of working to address these challenges, some choose to threaten, shame, and bully this young adult.

    Why is Greta Thunberg so triggering? Because of what she represents. In an age when democracy is under assault, she hints at the emergence of a new kind of power, a convergence of youth, popular protest and irrefutable science. And for her loudest detractors, she also represents something else: the sight of their impending obsolescence hurtling towards them.

    How the Climate Kids are short-circuiting right-wing media

    The kids aren’t just all right — they’re scrambling the brains of their political enemies.

    In some of my recent research, I’ve been looking at the tools and practices of digital activists as they connect online, and thinking about how they conduct this work while balancing their offline livelihood. As part of this, I’ve been thinking/writing about what this means for our youth as they engage in these (and future) spaces. To put a finer point on this, how do we create a space for youth to safely express themselves online and offline and engage in these literacy practices.

    As we saw with the Parkland students, growing up online definitely helps. Charlie Warzel wrote that a strength of the Parkland students was being “effectively born onto the internet and innately capable of waging an information war.”

    The youth activists of this climate movement are battle-hardened by the Internet and they’ve found a way to turn online organizing into mobilization on the streets.

    Simply put, they don’t seem to care what adults, skeptics, deniers and crusty politicians think of them. And they waste very little of their time, energy and focus work-shopping their message or bulletproofing it against criticism. They simply pay their enemies no attention. They’re participating in the culture wars while also managing to float above the fray.

    Use of social media to manipulate public opinion now a global problem, says new report

    The new report ‘The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation’, co-authored by Professor Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and Samantha Bradshaw, Researcher at the OII, is the only regular inventory of its kind to look at the use of algorithms, automation and big data to shape public life.

    The report explores the tools, capacities, strategies and resources employed by global ‘cyber troops’, to create global disinformation order, using social media platforms to target international audiences with disinformation.

    Facebook remains the platform of choice for social media manipulation, with evidence of formally organized campaigns taking place in 56 countries.

    Facebook announces Horizon, a VR massive-multiplayer world

    This week we moved five minutes closer to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

    Facebook today announced it’s building its own Ready Player One Oasis. Facebook Horizon is a virtual reality sandbox universe where you can build your own environments and games, play and socialize with friends or just explore the user-generated landscapes. This is Facebook’s take on Second Life.

    Do you have an Oculus and interest in gaining early access? Apply for the beta here.

    ‘Stealing Ur Feelings,’ an Interactive Documentary About Big Tech, AI, and You

    The six-minute documentary explains the science of facial emotion recognition technology and demystifies how the software picks out features like your eyes and mouth to understand if you’re happy, sad, angry, or disgusted.

    Test it out here. Please be advised…this is super scary…super creepy.

    Have a discussion with your “digital executor”

    Doug Belshaw some of his thoughts about how to handle your digital assets and domains after you die. Belshaw shares a template for a Digital Estate Planning, as well as the suggestion of a digital executor.

    Doug suggests that we divide our online lives into three buckets:

    Really important to my legacy
    Kind of important
    Not important
    If I were to die before the next issue of this newsletter, I would consider my main blog, and the various iterations of my newsletter to be in the first, or second bucket. Photos and videos are most definitely in the first bucket. My social media feeds and those digital breadcrumbs I’ve left behind can fade away into digital dust.

    Some of this thinking informs my use of digital spaces and hosting. I pay for hosting on my sites, but also back up to the Internet Archive as much as possible. I also load all of my audio podcasts to the Internet Archive. This is not a foolproof mechanism, but it saves it a bit longer.

    What are your thoughts about what you’ll leave behind?

    When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning! I have Asperger’s syndrome and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances – being different is a superpower.

    Greta Thunberg

    Digitally Literate is a synthesis of the cool stuff I find as I surf, skim, & scan the Internet each week. I take notes of everything that piques my interest, and then pull together the important stuff here in a weekly digest.

    Feel free to say hello at or on the social network of your choice.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: