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Digital Life after Death

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Lance Michalson

“Death is inevitable, your digital self can live forever…Our local, carbon-based “hard drives” may fail, but vestiges of our inimitable souls will remain ambient and accessible long after we log off this mortal coil” (Wired Magazine, March 2010).

On the weekend of 17/18 April 2010 a colleague of mine, Reinhardt Buys died at the age of 39. He was a senior manager in Tax & Legal at Deloittes. Reinhardt and I started practising IT Law in the mid-1990s and our paths crossed a lot. Whilst we had our differences, I respected his phenomenal marketing abilities and thought leadership in the IT Law space in South Africa.

Reinhardt’s death got me thinking about dying and what happens to our online presence when we are ‘uploaded to the cloud’? All you need to do is Google Reinhardt’s name and you will see that his Digital presence is still with us. Over the course of his working life, Reinhardt would have developed an incredibly valuable body of work which I hope will not be lost for ever. I hope that his laptop has not been formatted by now and all his IP gone forever.

The final lesson that I learned from Reinhardt was the importance of ‘posthumous management’ and in some instances, eradication: leaving a note to one’s executors in ones will, giving them a list of all one’s usernames and passwords for the various password protected websites and documents: from online banking, to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc… with instructions on carrying out your last wishes, alerting friends, giving account access to various designated beneficiaries, closing down banking accounts and profiles.

If you do not have a will, go and have one prepared now. If you do have a will, and if you do have an online presence, think about how you want it to be dealt with once you are gone.

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