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 Not for publication or as some sort of formal biography, but simply as a keepsake for the family.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?

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Facebook Frenzy!

I am horrible about staying in touch with people when I’m away at school. My friends from home constantly berate me after long absences with limited communication. Even my father, my designated ’email buddy,’ will tease me about the amount of time it takes for me to get back to him. I understand their frustration completely. In fact, I’m not even exactly sure how I became so inept at online communications, especially since I’m a frequent user of several social networking sites. For socializing with my friends, our primary resource is Facebook. Oh Facebook.

On February 4th, Facebook celebrated their 7th anniversary. That same day I received a phone call from a friend, just to chat, but her immediate reaction was: “Wow, I was actually able to get in contact with you.” These two concurrent events made me think a bit more about my Facebook socialization throughout the years. In more recent years, when the site would have actually been a valuable resource for keeping in touch with my high school friends, my interest in Facebook has waned. Personally, I prefer Twitter, a preference that most of my friends unfortunately do not share.

I do, however, remember my first experiences with Facebook. I remember the ‘addiction’ and the excitement of this new website. And I remember how pathetically encapsulating the site became. I believe I first started my account toward the end of my Junior year of high school (that would be nearly 5 years ago now). Fresh off of MySpace, I was excited to find out about this more ‘grown-up’ various of social networking (not that I had even heard the term ‘social networking’ before). At the time, my brother had just entered college, and as the pretentious kid he was at that age, he was under the firm belief that Facebook should be for college students only–after all, he argued, that’s who it was created for. Instead, the fad quickly leaked into high schools, and eventually penetrated the walls of middle schools as well. Now, Facebook boasts 550 million users worldwide. The site is available in 70 different languages (I’m unsure if that stat includes the ‘pirate’ language feature).

Needless to say, Facebook is impressive. It has also become a key part of our society and culture. Who hasn’t heard someone say something along the lines of “Well, I don’t really know [name] but we’re friends on Facebook,” or “Oh yea, they broke up. I saw it on Facebook.” It has infiltrated our culture, even begin used as a verb, much like Google is (“I facebooked him/her. She seemed cool” & “We’ll have to Facebook”).

I use Facebook primarily for personal socialization– though not nearly as frequently as I apparently should. However, several companies have also taken advantage of the opportunity to ‘keep in touch’ with their customers. Companies and brands roll in  publicity from users’ ability to ‘like’ their work, or add them as an interest. We all want our profiles to be an accurate (though super cool) portrayal of ourselves, and this often means mentioning interests and favorites (i.e. Dunkin Donuts coffee– yep, here’s a shout out for DD!).

From a site that was created for Harvard student only, then college students, then spread to the general public–Facebook has certainly grown. This no use supposing this is just some passing trend. Facebook is an essential resource for companies as well as the general user. Despite my own personal receding interest, Facebook won’t be going out of style anytime soon. Nor will I cancel my account. In fact, I should clarify– my decreasing interest means that, instead of going on Facebook 12 times a day, I only go on 3 or 4. Still excessive by any means, but apparently not enough to ‘keep in touch.’ Facebook isn’t going anywhere any time soon– and that’s okay with all of us!

p.s. I debated prefacing this post with a viewer alert that no, I have not in fact seen The Social Network (I know, shame on me). Instead, this tidbit will just have to do as a post script.