My friend Simon likes to say that no one’s internet history bears close inspection. He’s speaking for himself, mostly; he’s always flirted more dangerously with depravity than me. My history is saturated with death. Of its concomitant, sex, not a jot. Yes. How boring.
It has not always been so. When my ex-wife got inside my computer she discovered correspondence which expedited the divorce. I was shocked by the invasion and delighted with the outcome.
But that’s another story.
What happens if you drop dead in, say, the next five minutes? Or tonight? Or even, to help you get used to the idea, tomorrow morning at 11.43? What happens to all your cyberstuff?
There are two sides to this. First, while your grievers are buoying themselves up by bravely singing along with Celine – “Near, far, wherever you are / I believe that the heart does go on” – it won’t be just your heart. So too will your email account, Facebook page and other digital testimony of your extantcy. You’ll want them to be able to stop the banter, spare themselves, terminate you.
Second, you’ll want them to be able to access accounts, either to close them or get their hands on the money and the digital media and whatever else you’ve got out there of monetary or sentimental value stored in a cloud server somewhere.
They won’t be able to do either unless they know, 1) what to look for, and 2) what the passwords are.
I remember sitting with a newly widowed widow who couldn’t begin to start winding up her husband’s affairs because she could even get into his computer. The password for that, together with all the others inside, died with him. Heaven only knows what she did in the end. Did she ever discover where all his funds were? I don’t know that she did.
There may be some passwords you want to die with you—even if you can’t be prosecuted posthumously. But there are others which you will want to be available. Where can you keep them where no one can find them until the undertaker’s men come to zip you up in a bag and clonk you downstairs?
Awareness of all this is growing—as it needs to. And the answer is arriving—you guessed it—online. Of all the solution providers out there, the one I like best is offered by Deathswitch. Once you’ve stored all your secrets with them they prod you at intervals decided by you: they send you an email to which you must reply. If you don’t, they e-poke you a couple of times. If you still show no signs of life they decide you are definitely dead and contact those people you have designated with messages you composed while still alive.
They all draw attention to the two major drawbacks of putting all your eggs in one cyberbasket. First, what if the website dies first? Second, what if it gets hacked?
Progress is a wonderful thing. But let’s hear it for floorboards. Even after all these years, hard to beat.