I’ve been really fortunate in my life so far (at 26), as I’ve always managed to spend a month or more at home with my parents in the summertime. It’s not a vacation, we’re all working, but it gives us the chance to reconnect beyond the usual weekly phone call, and it’s in this time that the idiosyncrasies, the anecdotes, the minutia of their lives appear… and it is gold.
Last night was my last on Cape Cod for the summer. I had dinner with my parents at our family restaurant, and we covered all sorts of topics - from family, to the business, to my life, and theirs - and at the end, as has been the trend recently, I walked away thinking of my parents as my best-friends.
I also spent an hour with my grandmother yesterday afternoon. She’s been battling Alzheimer’s for a while now, but yesterday she was as lucid as I’ve seen her in two years. We, too, talked about everything! I cherish her stories about her life, immigrating to the US years ago and making a life - “my best life” - as she refers to it, in growing our family.
Yet, her stories, and those of my parents, are unlikely to ever be preserved digitally (slow adoption here on Cape Cod; my parents don’t even have an answering machine and she may cringe at me even writing this much about our family). While I love the nostalgia of thumbing through our old photo albums in the attic, that experience will be well on its way to extinction by the time the next generation (my kids?!) is grown.
Conversely, my life has been digitized for a while now. Like Bijan, I can imagine my digital life being remembered by my future generations. Which brings to mind two relevant cases.
1. My friend Laura Lee, who started a non-profithttp://TheGeneralHistoryProject.com. She’s preserving the history of “The General” - an 85 year old Kenyan tea farmer who has a leader for independence - because there is no record of his amazing life and stories. It’s really interesting to think of the incredible lives and stories that exist in our world, yet have no record in our digital existence.
2. My friend Ricky - my teammate in college - who passed away suddenly about 3 years ago. His profile is still up on Facebook, and I still see his name pop up in tagged photos and even news feed stories (everyone still wished him a happy birthday this year). His digital ghost still lives…
So then, what is the proper way to handle this? I’m sure services like Facebook and Tumblr and even Google will/have been faced with the question of what to do when a user passes on. Is it best to shut down their profiles - erasing them from memory? Or let them live on in digital eternity as part of the greater community? Finally, is someone going to build the service that enables us to have our own personal Archive.orgs?
See @Bijan's blog for his original post.