When my best friend, Hector Collazo, passed away back in November, it caught everyone, including myself by complete surprise. When we often think about our mortality and our ultimate demise, we often think (wish) that we’ll pass on to the next world when we’re well into our old age. We’ll be in bed surrounded by our loved ones, saying their final goodbyes as we blissfully pass into the veil.
My friend was relatively healthy and yet he passed away very suddenly of heart failure. The day before, we were talking quite coincidentally about life and death, joking around and making plans on meeting the following morning to take reference pictures of the neighborhood for his upcoming, “The Thing” story.
Then he was gone.
The days that followed were very hectic. Besides his funeral, one thing was important to him that he wanted me to take care of. It was very eerie, to be honest, being that we had been talking about it just the night before his passing. He wanted me to take his computer and take care of his digital footprint if he ever passed away. It was important to him that I take care of his art and files.
He was an extremely funny guy and if he hadn’t been involved in art, he would’ve easily fit the bill as a professional stand-up comedian. He was that funny. I bring this up because he joked many times about what I should do should he die.
“Nando, take that computer of mine and delete all my porn – after you’ve downloaded some choice pics for yourself of course,” he said. He didn’t have anything questionable to be honest. His Mac didn’t even have a password so I had complete access. He did have a specific file on his computer that was very important: a text file that had the passwords to all of his various accounts: email, bank, Facebook, iTunes, etc. These were, in effect, the keys to his digital afterlife.
I realized what I had and its high importance. I could use those credentials to make sure that I could manage his data or close his accounts (if need be). In the case of his email account, I used it to get some of his professional contacts and alert them of his passing. With Facebook, I contemplated memorializing his page but on the advice of a friend, opted not to. Facebook shuts everything down when a request like that comes in, denying complete access to the account (even with a password) and basically turning it into a group page. I didn’t want that so it’s exactly as he’d left it. If he’s tagged in things, I would untag it if it’s inappropriate. I knew him pretty darn well and know what he woud’ve wanted. He was blessed with great friends so this hasn’t been a problem. I still monitor his account from time to time and clean up/delete/edit his page if necessary. One day, I’ll let it go and simply leave it as is.
I took his computer home and proceeded to download all of his high quality art. Very good friends of his have approached me about using his artwork for possibly publishing his works online and in print. With his original hi-res files, this shouldn’t be an issue. Some family photos were also retrieved and given to his aunt.
Some of his music, ebooks, audio books and movies were purchased via iTunes. This was a big mistake because as all of you know, iTunes’ DRM limits music and movies being played to only five computers at a time. Without access to that account, his media pretty much dies with him. In fact, you don’t really own the media purchased from Apple. You can’t transfer it. This is why Bruce Willis is contemplating suing Apple because he wants to turn over his music collection to his daughters upon his death (this is why I only purchase my DRM-free mp3 music from Amazon). With access to his iTunes password, I was able to transfer his purchases to my computer after authorizing it.
Speaking of software transfers, I also was able to use the serial numbers to key software that he had purchased (via his email) and use it to reinstall on my computer. He definitely would’ve wanted me to have it.
Google just recently announced a new service on their accounts setting page called Inactive Account Manager. Basically, if you should die and a predetermined period of online inactivity passes by (3, 6, 9 or even 12 months), Google can take over your account (blogs, Gmail, Google+, contacts, etc.) and delete it or give access to a trusted friend or family member of your choosing. Many think it’s stupid but I think it’s a pretty neat idea. We live in a new, digital world and this makes perfect sense.
If I were to suddenly die, I would want my data protected or wiped. As a matter of fact, I have such a contingency in place: my daughter. She’s very young now but already she’s a little computer savvy (in time I’ll teach her all I know). She knows most of my passwords and I’ve been very frank and honest about such things with her. All of my photos (which are precious to all of us) will be in her hands. All of my writing, thoughts, notes and ramblings will be hers. This very blog, which bears her name, is basically set up for her to take over someday. She’ll be able to read my posts and learn much about me through these words. It is my hope that she can add to this blog at a later point. At 11, she’s becoming a very good writer and her photography isn’t too shabby. This blog will be in good hands.
If you’ve never given this morbid topic a thought, please do. Everyone thinks about having a will in place (I don’t – that’s another topic for another day!) but not much thought is given to what would happen to your digital footprint should something happen to you. If Google’s solution isn’t for you, have another plan in place. Leave something behind in case the inevitable should happen.
“Who cares about all of this if I’m dead?” you might say. True enough. But in these times, your “digital self” has become very important. Why not take care of it and have some peace of mind, if not for yourself but for your friends and family?