The Permanency of a Digital Legacy

Around the time of her 80th birthday, my Grandmother decided to write down her memoirs. Not for publication or as some sort of formal biography, but simply as a keepsake for the family. Having been born in 1919, she lived through a time of major changes and, whether kin or not, it’s hard to not find her stories fascinating. After reading them more recently, I began to wonder about my own legacy. Sure, it seems a bit morbid, but it’s hard not to wonder what you will leave behind after you’re gone.

That’s when I realized that, unlike my Grandmother, much of my life and experiences have already been recorded in perhaps an even more permanent format than ink and paper. Yes, I’m talking about the internet.

Over the years, I’ve had multiple blogs, some for school and some for personal use; social media accounts, ranging from the now-dated MySpace to the ever-popular Facebook; accounts at numerous sites, from shopping to gaming; papers or pieces published in online formats; and of course, any bit of local news with my name in it can also be found in the great online archive. So you see, if years from now my ancestors decide to look into who I was, they need go no further than the nearest computer.

Certainly there’s something less romantic about memoirs from the digital age, but perhaps the most frightening thing to take away from this is the permanency of all our online (and offline) actions.

In 2010, Twitter announced that the Library of Congress would be digitally archiving the tweets of all the site’s users since its inception in 2006. Phew, what a relief– years from now my ancestors can view my attempts at being witty with a 140 character limit. What exactly will they learn from this officially documented data? Well, they’ll find out I’m a bit of a complainer, not all that funny, and kind of boring. Of course, while sifting through the thousands of trivial tweets, they may come across some of my activities and opinions– you know, the kind of things one actually puts in a memoir.

But what about my other social media accounts? Well, I’m not sure if the Library of Congress has any claims of ownership on my Facebook, but then again there’s no telling what sticks around after you pass on. In fact, this has actually become a major concern for individuals– what happens to one’s online accounts after they die?

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter actually have policies set in place to deal with this and, with the proper proof, loved ones can delete the accounts of the deceased. In some cases, they can also choose to memorialize the account instead. Other accounts, such as those on PayPal or Gmail, also have systems in place to deal with such issues.

To make things a bit easier, it is becoming more and more common for individuals to make a Digital Will in which they leave instructions on the proper steps to be taken with digital accounts after the person’s death. There are also services, such as Legacy Locker, that store all of the information– passwords, usernames–for loved ones to access in the case of death.

So sure, there are plenty of steps to take in order to clear away some of your digital disarray, but there’s no way to completely erase your online presence. Then there’s always the fact that many people, myself included, don’t really care much what happens to those accounts after our passing. I mean, I’m dead and gone, what do I care if Amazon.com still has my order history on record. But then again, I also don’t have anything to hide…do you?

And that’s what it comes down to: our lives are out there, on the internet, and with just a little bit of digging, any number of things can be found out about us. And the scariest part is the permanency of it all.

So here I am, writing my memoirs every time I tweet, or comment on Facebook, or write a blog post. Look at me, I think I just wrote a whole chapter of my memoirs right here and now.

So what do you think? Is your digital legacy something you would like to try to erase, or just another chapter in your memoirs?

My Lucky Dog

Yesterday I lost my best friend. He was short, furry, and walked on four legs. His name was Lucky, and he was quite possibly the best thing that ever happened to me.

We first adopted Lucky when I was about 10. He was about 3.

At first he was a difficult dog. He had terrible separation anxiety and would destroy things when we were away. If put in a crate, he would break out at all expenses, often hurting himself in the process. After a chipped tooth, some scratches, and a burst blood vessel, we decided we could not keep him. He was too much work, and he was only doing harm to himself. He would be better off elsewhere. So, after a few weeks of having him, I said goodbye one morning as I headed off to school.

I don’t remember feeling particularly upset that morning, perhaps because I knew all along that my mom would never actually take him back that day. Sure enough, he was still there when I got home. We struggled through those first few months, but we soon realized that for him, it was completely worth it.

Never have I met a dog so in touch with human emotions, or so loyal, or so loving. Everyone thinks they have the best dog, and I think that each of these individuals, myself included, are exactly right. Because dogs adapt to you, as you adapt to them. We learned to deal with his anxiety, and in turn he learned to deal with our family’s ups and downs.

In actuality, his anxiety disorder fit in perfectly with our family. I, myself, have long struggled with a Panic Disorder. Many of the worst years were around the time when we first adopted Lucky. Somehow, he was able to help me during my attacks. The comfort of having him near. He would give me kisses, wag his tail, he would stay by my side. He was the perfect companion.

He was loyal to our whole family. He trusted us to do what was best, and that is why I know that we did the right thing yesterday. For months, he’d been struggling. His joints were stiff and he was losing muscle mass. Just getting off the floor became a trial. He wasn’t always sure of where he was. He would get confused, walk into corners, wander aimlessly. But, most importantly, he had stopped wagging his tail.He no longer found joy in his daily life. The look in his eyes was one of helplessness and confusion. He was waiting for us to decide what to do.

The night before we made our decision, he had multiple accidents in the house, each time falling down into his own waste because he could no longer hold himself up. We knew it was time. Perhaps past the time, but we could no longer delay the inevitable.

As my mom said, he would have soldiered on forever if we had asked him to. He would have stayed by our sides until ever joint ached and he could no longer walk. He was loyal, and loving, and miraculous.

He came with the name Lucky, but over the years I’ve realized how perfectly the title suited him. Not necessarily because he was lucky to have found us, but because we were lucky–extraordinarily lucky– to have found him.

My whole heart aches, and I’ve fallen victim to random bouts of crying these past 48 hours, but I know that what was done was for the best. I know that he loved us so completely, and he gave us 12 wonderful years of that love, that we could ask for no more.

I’ll never get over him. He was my childhood, my best friend, my family member, my constant companion, my pillow, my cuddle buddy, my soother, my therapist, my playmate, my dog.

And I was so goddamn lucky to have him.