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?

Death in Facebook, Facebook and Death - Part One

Death in Facebook, Facebook and Death – Part One

I was about to leave the house when Koby, a Facebook friend of both my brother Tal and mine, sent me a startled message:

Koby Shabaty: “Has someone hacked Tal’s Facebook profile?????”
Of course all other plans were forgotten and I hurried to Tal’s Timeline (his wall) on Facebook. I looked for any signs of vandalizing and found none, much to my relief. I asked Koby what it was that alarmed him.

Koby Shabaty: “I saw he Liked something… I was a bit shocked”.
Oh. That.

Fortunately, READWRITE, a technology blog, had a post titled Why Are Dead People Liking Stuff On Facebook which I bumped into not a week earlier, otherwise I have no idea how I’d have reacted to Koby’s screenshot:

Screenshot of a page being liked by my brother
Koby Shabaty: “Totally surreal, sadly there is no date indication”.
That does look like Tal Liked something after his death.

The Facebook spokesman has an explanation: Those are past Likes that Facebook recycles and posts again. Not unlike Readwrite in this post, I admit I find this explanation not entirely credible, or at least not the only explanation. This page, liked by Tal, was indeed created before Tal had died – had it been created after his death it would have been a solid proof – and I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect there’s a different reason.

Statistics claim that three Facebook users die every minute.

From a clip by ‘Life Insurance Finder’, an Australian company, produced 2012
Tzach Ben-Yehuda‏, a lawyer-sociologist whose thesis dealt with anonymity in the web, told me once: “You can’t sell ads to dead people’s profiles on Facebook”, but it’s probably possible to fake their Likes. I don’t know whether it’s a bug or a deliberate malicious act, but I suspect there’s something in Facebook drawing Likes out of profiles.

The next case shows it’s indeed a past Like that’s been brought back, and here’s the reaction of a woman who ran into it – a friend of the deceased:

The Facebook spokesman said that, had the profile been defined as a Memorial profile, this would not have happened; no past Like would be re-used.

Once a user died, there are three options:
A family member contacts Facebook and asks for the profile to be deleted (this is only allowed for family members);
Someone (anyone) reports to Facebook that the user has passed away, which will result in the profile changing to a Memorial profile (as far as Facebook is concerned, no personal relation to the deceased is required, nor should the user’s family be contacted or consulted with);
Nobody informs Facebook that the user no longer lives, and their profile goes on functioning as usual.
When choosing the latter option, Facebook is unaware of the user no longer being alive, and so treats them as usual – including suggesting the user as a friend for other users, or as a potential guest for their events – as happened to me, when Facebook suggested I invite two of my relatives to an event – and my deceased brother.
This hurts, but for me – and this is a personal preference and there are no rights or wrongs in this matter – this is a price worth paying for the profile not turning into a Memorial profile.

On January 2013 Huffington Post published an article titled Death On Facebook Now Common As ‘Death Profiles’ Create Vast Virtual Cemetery, introducing a person who was displeased by a deceased distant friend’s profile remaining untouched:
The comments to those photos contain correspondence between Rohan and Lalit, when the latter was still alive.

Aurora finds Facebook’s constant reminding him of his dead friend disturbing. This might have to do with him being young, or with the fact him and the deceased were not very close – but at any case, he feels uncomfortable with said distant friend’s profile not having become a Memorial profile. For others however, this Facebook presence of the deceased is far from disturbing; it is very welcome.

On April 27th, 2013, I was interviewed for a TV program in Channel 10. Healla Green, Alan Green’s wife, was interviewed to it as well. Her Facebook profile is named A.W – Alan’s Wife – and only after that does her own name appear, Healla Green. In the TV broadcast she tells how connected she felt to her husband’s profile after he had died, and how hard it was for her when Facebook changed it to a Memorial profile (it seems that for her the profile had simply vanished, but from her description I can guess that’s what happened to it). Facebook profiles aren’t deleted unless a family member requests them to be so, and even then it’s never immediate, as shown later in this post. However, since anyone can report anyone as dead – BuzzFeed have already proved this is hardly a challenge in this article, How Almost Anyone Can Take You Off Facebook (And Lock You Out) – I suspect this is what happened; someone was uncomfortable with Alan’s profile still giving the impression that Alan was alive, reported to Facebook of Alan’s death without discussing it with Alan’s wife first – and Healla, the wife, found herself locked out of her husband’s account, seeing as Facebook doesn’t require a family member’s permission to change a profile to Memorial. As Healla put it:

When a profile changes to a Memorial profile it can no longer be found through search engines, friends of friends can no longer view it – only those who are friends already – some of the content is deleted (the choice of what is removed and what remains is Facebook’s) and the account is no longer accessible, even if you have the password.

As explained and recommended in my technical guide, if you have access to the deceased’s Facebook account you should first backup its entire content, seeing as it can become a Memorial profile at any moment and you will no longer be allowed access to it. Following Healla’s case I also recommend to friend-request the deceased with your own Facebook account (open one if you don’t have one already) and approve it from theirs as long as you have access to it – and this way, at least, you will be able to view it even if it’s changed to a Memorial profile. Had Healla read the technical guide at the time, she might have not had to deal with this aspect of the pain, at least.

On April 2013 a Brazil judge ordered Facebook to remove, immediately, the profile of 24 years old deceased Juliana Ribeiro Campos, following her mother’s request. The mother says:

The mother had requested Facebook to remove the profile several times over a few months, and then took legal action.

As we can see, the deceased’s Facebook profile can be as much a source of great comfort as it can be distressing, and that the combination of Facebook and death has many varied aspects. I will review those in my next post in this series.

Identity Theft Safeguard

Justin digital legacy

It is a proud moment for most parents when their son or daughter decides to join the marines and represent their country. This is no different for the family of Justin Ellsworth. Unfortunately the price of being a marine can be life threatening and in November 2004 Justin Ellsworth’s family got to experience a tragedy like no other when their son was reported dead. At the age of 20 their son Justin had been killed in a roadside blast while trying to assist local civilians.

As you could imagine this would be a huge loss for any family accompanied by much anguish. Regrettably the family of Justin Ellsworth would be haunted and reminded every day that their beloved family member was gone. This was mediated with the fact that Yahoo would not release Justin is emails to his family. To protect their users and themselves from being sued Yahoo has made it almost impossible for anyone outside of the account holder to gain access to an email address. So when Justin had passed away his family pleas to get to read his last words were in vain. Yahoo would not budge about their privacy policy.

The family of Justin knew that they had legal ground to collect their fallen family member is emails and decided to take their fights to the legal system. For the next two years the family of Justin and Yahoo battled on and off in court. During proceedings both sides holding on to their stance about what should happen to the emails of the deceased soldier with no settlements looming.

In April 2005, nearly two years after Justin had passed the judge had made a verdict. The judge had decided Yahoo had no legal grounds to hold Justin is emails from their family as they were the next in line to control it. Soon after the judge signed off on papers declaring Justin is email estate be signed off to his family immediately. This is something Yahoo did not try to appeal. Finally Justin is family had access to his emails but, not only did they have access, they had closure.

It just goes to show you that if you want your loved ones to gain access to your digital legacy then you must give them access before you die. Whether you leave your passwords in a will or you share it with someone close to you for safe keeping. Concluding remember, you are ultimately responsible for your digital legacy unless you want to let your family and loved ones fight for control!

Digital death is still a problem. A widow’s battle to access her husband’s Apple account

Leslie’s Digital Legacy

It is not a surprise to most when we hear that the life we are living today could end any minute. We have all come to expect death at some point. With this being said what we do in life defines us and what others will remember us by, but what all that we worked for could be taken away in the blink of an eye? This is the sad case for Leslie Harpold.

In the early 2000’s Leslie Harpold was an up and coming writer, graphic artists and editor. She was the total package when it came to freelance artists. Flooded with praise and respect Leslie was making a household name for herself in the online world. Then in 2006 the unimaginable happened. At the age of 40 Leslie had passed away leaving her family, friends, and clients in disarray.

With her life taken away and no way to come back Leslie had only her digital media left to carry on her digital legacy. Unfortunately for Leslie the story gets worse. Leslie was young and had never thought about death, she never thought about how she would be remembered and what to be left open to the public to view if she had passed. So on the horrific day that Leslie passed all of her digital legacy was automatically given to her parents. Maybe it was a coping mechanism, maybe they wanted something to not be seen, or maybe they just down right did not want to share their daughter is memory with the world. Regardless of the reason Leslie’s digital legacy was taken away.

Friends of Leslie had offered her family to take control of her websites with the clause that they would touch and alter anything. Just keep the website intact so others could experience the joy that Leslie had brought to the world. Unfortunately any sort of discussion with the family on this matter would go into a definite circle. They wanted no means of Leslie is past to be displayed. In the end no one could fight what the family wanted, they were automatically the ones who had control and not any of Leslie is friends.


What is Digital Estate Planning and Why Do I Need it?

Eradicating Memories – Corporate Responsibility of Digital Legacy

6 year old Jennifer Atkins was just like any other teenager; she liked to use email, faceebook, twitter, tumblr, and blog. She was taking the fullest advantage of the digital age. What set Jennifer apart from other teenage girls was that she was battling a hard war against a disease since she was 12. Jennifer not only discussed her life as a cancer patient – the triumphs, defeats, but also tried to be a normal teenager interacting with friends and family over the internet. The story of Jennifer does not end happily as she passed away in November.

With her passing left her family with much sorrow and anguish, but they tried to move forward and find relief from Jennifer herself. The family had hired a computer expert to use Jennifer’s laptop to find all her passwords so they could relive the life of their family member. Once the computer expert had successfully gotten access to the computer and passwords Jennifer is family began exploring their loved one is life. They found poems, inspirational messages and even some deep and disturbing information. Yet for the family this was more peaceful and a way to never let go of their loved one.
Unfortunately for Jennifer is family the networks that Jennifer had used to communicate and leave the messages they read began to catch wind of what they were doing. Thus beginning the slow process of shutting down Jennifer is accounts, and killing any memories of Jennifer that the family had left.

The issue, sites such as facebook, tumblr, twitter, yahoo, and blog sites had issues with what the family was doing as it went against their terms of services. These sites are very conscious of what new and prospective users might think. If new users thought that these sites could give families access to personal files they may shy away. This might be especially true to people who are estranged from their family. Facebook does give you the option to close accounts down or turn a decease person is page into a memory page (as long as no one logs into the person is account). Yahoo on the other hand will terminate and delete files in their new term user agreement – anyone signing up for yahoo agrees that once dead their account will be deleted.

It is this corporate need to stay protected that caused Jennifer’s family to lose the remaining memories of their daughter. No matter what Jennifer might have wanted, could not matter because the terms of services now days are focused to stop anyone, including families from getting access. Jennifer is family may never getting to know her daughters final thoughts beyond what they had little time to read. This just goes to leave the question, do you have access to your own digital legacy when you sign up for third party sites and are you ready to lose it all and leave nothing for your family if you die?