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 Not for publication or as some sort of formal biography, but simply as a keepsake for the family.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

Twitter’s Timeline

In March, Twitter celebrated its 5th birthday, and my-my, how far it has come.

Despite its short lifespan, there’s no denying the site’s maturation. From changes in design and popularity, to celebrating memorable events such as the first tweet from space, here are some of the highlights of Twitter’s half-decade of existence:

March 2006: Jack Dorsey creates Twitter. On March 31, he publishes the first tweet ever, which says, “just setting up my twttr.”

Just as an interesting comparison, it was on March 10, 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell spoke into the first telephone. His words were: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”

April 2007: Twitter becomes its own company.

November 2008: Twitter passes the 1 billion tweet mark!

July 2009: Twitter is welcomed into the English language, being officially recognized by Collins English Dictionary as both a noun and a verb.

October 2009: Less than a year after passing the 1 billion tweet mark, Twitter passes the 5 billion mark. Talk about growth!

January 2010: NASA astronaut T.J. Creamer, on board the International Space Station, communicates from space via Twitter.

July 2010: Twitter introduced the “Suggestions for You”  feature, offering personalized suggestions of users that may interest you.

August 2010: Twitter surpasses MySpace in the number of unique monthly visitors.

April 2011: The new twitter homepage is introduced. A new and improved look calls for new features as well, including the Local Trends feature, which expands to more than 70 cities and countries.

And of course, on May 1, 2011: Twitter is all a’twitter with speculation and then confirmation of the death of terrorist Osama Bin Laden. At one point, 5,106 tweets per second are recorded. This is the third highest tweeting rate, falling behind the numbers registered during New Years ’11 in Japan and the fatal tsunami there in March.

And it seems that Twitter’s success continues to grow substantially. More and more companies, celebrities, and average individuals are hitting the site to share their 140 character opinions. As for myself, I’ve been a member since 2008 and haven’t looked back since. I still rely on Twitter for news, both of substantial quality and the fluff celebrity pieces. As for the events of this past May 1st, I actually first heard the news from Twitter. I also first heard of Michael Jackson’s death via Twitter. It’s such a convenient source for news, often providing you with the perfect amount of headline and a link to more information. I’m a big Twitter fan (as may be apparent from my ramblings), what about you? Will it live on? Or are its days numbered?

Making History Hardcore

Sifting through my daily tumblr dashboard, I came across what appeared to be a really interesting advertising campaign by the Smithsonian Museum. Upon further research, it turns out that these posters/ads were actually created by a former student, Jenny Burrows, for a class project. The ads, which followed the campaign theme of “Historically Hardcore” soon went viral and people around the web were sharing the images. After all the attention they received, Burrows was actually asked to remove any mention of the Smithsonian museum. Despite the small revision, the ads remain up and are quite interesting and fun. It seems to me that if the Smithsonian doesn’t want the campaign, some other museum should scoop it up. With the theme “Historically Hardcore,” these posters would be a great way to reach out to an audience that doesn’t typically look to museums as a source of entertainment. Plus, history is pretty hardcore when you think about it.

Tell me what you think! And be sure to check out more work by Burrows here.