Creating Your Digital Legacy For Future Generations

Creating Your Digital Legacy For Future Generations

Grandpa “Les” Schindler on the farm around 1938-39

My grandfather (Leslie “Les” J. Schindler) was born January 1, 1918 and passed while I was in grad school – Nov 16, 1998.

He was a farmer and mechanic. On the farm, we had a dairy cow, about 40 head of cattle and we planted corn and soy beans.

Growing up I spent a lot of time on back fender of his tractor until I was old enough to drive one (I think around 6 or 7).

Then we would spend the days following each other around the fields. He would be cutting hay. I would be conditioning. He would be baling. I would be stacking.  He would be picking. I would be unloading the corn.

I learned a ton from him – about hard work, perseverance, and a few mechanical skills. I miss him a lot. Especially now that I have a family of my own. It would be great to understand what he thought about his situation and how he dealt with life’s ups and downs.

But he didn’t leave a lot of things behind. Great memories for sure, but nothing really written down.

If he had I would go back to those writings quite a bit.

I would look to what he said and how he said it. I have just a few of those grandpa quotes I remember – one of my favorites that he would say to grandma at the end of night when company had overstayed their welcome.

“Come on, Mother. Let’s go to bed so these people can go home.”

He had a twisted sense of humor.

I wonder if he had the ability to write down his everyday thoughts, would he?

Would he have been a blogger? 
Would he had tweeted about the farm? 
Would he had shared about the house and barns he built by hand?
Or the animals he cared for?

Probably not. But if he would have created the text, the pictures, the video, the vines, whatever it was – I would read it all, over and over. I respected the man quite a bit but I don’t remember much about what he thought. I just have a few pictures and a bunch of hazy memories of my childhood.

When I think of the opportunity that social media has given me, it kinda blows my mind. You have any opportunity to share with generations that only a handful of people have done in the past.

You can give you minute-by-minute updates of your life in real time. You can follow and learn as much as you want from others.  It’s amazing how connected and documented we are now. We all have audiences – and these audiences actually care about what we are writing.

Facebook as Digital Diary

Facebook as Digital Diary

What do you think about these digital tools documenting your life?

But it’s more than that.

We are essentially writing the books of our lives with ongoing commentary of friends and family and, maybe some detractors as well. That’s a lot different than a normal diary.

Yes, I keep in mind very well the people that are in my social networks when I’m sharing information. I want them to respond to me and I want to be a value add to their days. But I also need to keep in mind my future generations. The sons of my son, the daughters of my daughter’s daughter.

They will be influenced by what I say here because this will be my only voice after I’m gone.

I say all of this not because I want to scare you into deleting your Facebook account. We have all probably vented a few times too many, gone off on a rant or posted photos that could be taken out of context.

No, I say this, because I want you to keep sharing. I want you to pass along your wisdom to future generations and share with them what it was like to live at this day and age.

The stuff you do daily is actually very important.  If you are farming and sharing that information, there’s a good chance that the people who stumble across your blog or Facebook page or twitter profile aren’t connected to that lifestyle.  The daily stuff is new to them and very interesting. It’s not something they experience everyday.

And when generations look back like we do at the 1800′s when people were documenting their lives to share with others via mail but our future will definitely want to look into the past for insights. The sunrises you saw, the work you were passion about, the people you spent time with, the adventures you have are all part of this crazy social media world and it will be available forever to them.

So maybe this post is a little too sentimental. And maybe it’s not “real” enough because I edit out of social media some things that might be a bit too controversial for my future generations and my audience. That’s ok – I’m not and you aren’t – being graded on this.  You can share the controversial – sometimes that makes for lots of discussion – but just remember to be civil and kind.  It’s ok to disagree. It’s not ok to be a jerk.

I just want the future gens to trust me (even if all they know about me is what they have seen when I’m an old man who couldn’t have possibly been young at one time) and know that I thought about them when I was creating. I shared because I cared about them.

So I’m hoping that grandpa would have blogged had he been given the chance.  This way I could go back and visit with him even after he’s gone.

What do you think about future generation viewing our digital profiles? Any issues with it? Does it change how you think about social media?

Academic Articles and Papers

Academic Articles and Papers

  • In 2013, an article titled: “Facebook after death: an evolving policy in a social network” by Damien McCallig was published.
  • In 2013, an article titled: “Coping Online with Loss: Implications for Offline Clinical Contexts” by Joanna Pawelczyk was published. Thank you Dr. Carmel Vaisman for sending me the link.
  • In May 2013, Maria Perrone’s article: “What Happens When we Die: Estate Planning of Digital Assets” was published.
  • In May 2013 an article by Jed R. Brubaker, Gillian R. Hayes, and Paul Dourish was published, titled: “Beyond the Grave: Facebook as a Site for the Expansion of Death and Mourning“.
  • paper titled “Digital Afterlife: What Happens to Your Data When You Die?” was published in May 2013, by Stephen S. Wu.
  • In May 2013 a paper titled “Digital Estate Planning: Is Google Your Next Estate Planner?” was published, by Jamie Patrick Hopkins.
  • In April 2013, the paper “Afterlife in the Cloud: Managing a Digital Estate“, also by Jamie Patrick Hopkins, was published.
  • In February 2013 a paper titled “What happens to my Facebook profile when I die?” : Legal Issues Around Transmission of Digital Assets on Death” was published by Lilian Edwards and Edina Harbinja. Thank you Paul Golding for sending me the link.
  • Since September 2012, the article “There Isn’t Wifi in Heaven!” – Negotiating Visibility on Facebook Memorial Pages by Alice Marwick and Nicole B. Ellison is available online for free download. Thank you Dr. Carmel Vaisman for sending me this link.
  • In 2012, an article titled “Grief-Stricken in a Crowd: The Language of Bereavement and Distress in Social Media” was published, by Jed R. Brubaker, Funda Kivran-Swaine, Lee Taber and Gillian R. Hayes.
  • In 2011, the article “”We will never forget you [online]”: An Empirical Investigation of Post-mortem MySpace Comments” was published, by Jed R. Brubaker and Gillian R. Hayes.
  • In 2011, the article “Security and privacy considerations in digital death” was published by Michael E. Locasto, Michael Massimi and Peter J. DePasquale.
  • In 2010, Jed R. Brubaker and Janet Vertesi’s paper “Death and the Social Network “was published .
  • In 2008, the current term “Digital Legacy” was then referred to as “Digital Heirlooms” and an article titled: “On the Design of Technology Heirlooms” was published by David Kirk and Richard Banks.
If you come across any other papers or articles, please be so kind as to send me the link, so I could add them to the list (with credit to you, of course). Email:, Facebook page: Digital Dust.
Digital death is still a problem. A widow’s battle to access her husband’s Apple account

Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

As I have previously discussed, even people who believe they have a comprehensive estate plan may have overlooked what happens to their digital assets when they die. The idea is to address digital assets in your existing estate plan. Attorney coach, James Lamm, is teaching attorneys how to integrate specifics of digital estate planning.

Many people possess digital assets that may be of great value to them. However, the value of web domains, photos, videos, email, and social-media accounts may be lost if the owner does not take proper legal steps ahead of time. Digital estate planning is more complicated than traditional estate planning because the owner of assets is tasked with making sure to leave access to the heir. However, these sites may be password protected, encrypted, and governed by privacy laws. Lamm suggests some first steps that would help in the digital estate -planning process.

  1. Go through a test run and ask yourself if you were incapacitated today would your loved ones be able to gain access to your digital assets? Who would you want to have access?
  2. Keep a record of all of the things in your digital inventory with the user name and passwords.
  3. Keep a back up of your digital asset information.
  4. Reduce your plan to writing.
THR 245: You’re Building Your Digital Legacy. Make it Count.

THR 245: You’re Building Your Digital Legacy. Make it Count.

Either there’s a lot of bad content out there on the internet, or the good stuff is just exceptionally hard to find. Think about all of the stories you’ve read this month… the fluff pieces that pop up on Twitter or are shared on your Facebook feed:

– Could THESE photos be of the new iPhone 5 case?
– It’s a boy! The royal family celebrates.
– Hey, have you heard about this new sharing economy? People are actually renting out their apartments, their services, even their cars! (Yes, we heard about this 2 years ago)
– You won’t believe the FAIL this news reporter did on the air.
– Yet another story about “The 5 types of people on Facebook.”

That’s why I try to work incredibly hard to rise above that and deliver something of value. It isn’t easy.

One guy who does this on a regular basis is Gary Vaynerchuk. He had a great video recently that humorously hammered home the importance in mobile. (While my salary negotiation site is being mobile optimized as we speak, the code for TheHopkinsonReport is a bit more complex).

But here’s another video the really struck a chord with me. It’s titled:
We are All the Patriarchs of Our Digital Families

Check it out:

In it, he talks about creating a digital legacy. Realizing that we are the pioneers right now and are laying the groundwork for what all future generations will see. Even the family that took the most photos back in the day has nothing compared to what we do now, and we’re not just documenting silly one-handed photos, but also comments, criticism, and predictions of the future.

How will your family be viewed?
This answer will differ depending on your age, but lets use me as an example. Another year has gone by and the shocking news is that my 44th birthday is rapidly approaching in August.

While I am immersed in media far more than the average person, I have friends my age that have missed the boat entirely, choosing to skip out on Facebook or just now learning about Twitter. But even I probably can’t compete with anyone under 25.

Looking at stats via Business Insider, US Smartphone owners age 18-24 send and receive nearly 4,000 texts per month. My old man text bracket? Around 1,500. Those over 55 don’t even break 500. Meanwhile, my 2-year-old nephew already knows the ins and outs of the iPad.


I’m old enough that on my mom’s side, I had grandparents born in the 1800s! My grandfather was born in 1896, while my grandmother was born in the extremely cool year of 1900. How easy would it be to figure out how old you are for your entire life?!

– Can’t wait to turn 21 in … 1921!
– Well, I celebrated my 42nd birthday… that was back in… 1942.
– Ah, the space launch in 1969… I would have been about… 69 back then.

On my dad’s side, my grandparents were born a bit later. We celebrated my grandfather’s 75th birthday in the early 80’s.

Yet, I’ve probably seen about two dozen photos of all of my grandparents combined, and not a second of video. It’s a sad fact that I truly don’t know that much about them.

As Gary eloquently puts it:

“All the dumb sh!t that your grandfather did, is lost in history. Everything you’re doing is being documented.”


My parents grew up in the 50s and 60s, before tying the knot in 1968 and having me a year later. While there are a few black and white photos from their childhood and a skinny picture of my dad as he entered the Army that looks just like me, it’s like we’re trapped in some kind of Back to the Future “Enchantment Under the Sea Dance” story when we hear about how they met.

There are no blog posts talking about the latest trends, no awkward selfies from their honeymoon, and no YouTube clips of the time they went camping and totally got rained on. It would be a struggle to find even a VHS tape of them live on video before 1990.

And then there’s me

The amount of content I’ve personally created in the last 20 years is immense. We can probably ignore the non-digital content, since only the most curious ancestor would bother trying to secure the relics of the ancient past:
– VHS tapes of movies I made in the 90s
– Newspaper articles from my college newspaper that still live in my parents basement
– Boxes of print photos from my childhood, including a few mullet photos from college

But think of all the digital content:
– Hundreds of hours of audio from this podcast
– Thousands of digital photos
– 244 blog posts alone documenting the world from 2008-2013
– More than 4,000 tweets and hundreds of Foursquare check-ins
– Thousands of Facebook posts, comments, and likes
– Hours of digital video
– Pages of Google results
– Dozens of articles authored across multiple sites

The Tough Question

So here’s the tough question: What do you stand for?

Assume you only have one shot. To your son, your daughter, your grandkids. Maybe it will be the nerdy son of your niece that you’ll never meet that gets assigned a project in 2050 to research their great uncle. What will they find?

Will your digital legacy be filled with endless photos of food, taken without context to what restaurant, what city, what friends were present?

Will it be video that gets fast-forwarded through because it looks like all the others?

Or will they find something that really matters?

A deep connection with family or friends.
A trend that emerges over and over again, no matter what the medium.

Wow, he always had a smile on his face.
Wow, he always seems to have time for his friends and family.
Wow, I didn’t know this about them. It looks like he really made a difference.

Your Legacy

Take a second to think about what you want that teenager to say about you when they unearth your digital legacy and present it to the class.

We are All the Patriarchs of Our Digital Families

Oh, there’s one thing I forgot.

It’s sitting here not 3 feet away on my bookshelf. My grandfather, Joseph Hopkinson DID once take the time to leave his mark, authoring a textbook teaching Latin.

Way to go, Papa Joe.

Check out my free online salary negotiation course, “How to Negotiate Salary: The Negotiation Mindset.”

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