Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Digital Legacy

Today Matt IMed me with a witty little digital adaption of some dialog from everyone's favorite movie, The Princess Bride. ("I am the Dread Slashdotter hypnotik!") The original source of this was this Slashdotters journal entry.

Which really got me thinking after I read it. For those of you who will never follow the above link (I know you're out there...), here's the summary:

We are all currently creating digital bits of ourselves all over the Internet. All of our saved email; accounts from websites such as Slashdot; photo albums on Flickr or Web Shots; etc. etc. etc. The question is, should we take steps to ensure that after we pass that our survivors will have access to this information?

Just as today we may read old letters that our grandfathers wrote home during WWII with keen interest, will my children read through my old email with affection? For instance, they may find the flurry of emails I sent and received in the immediate wake of 9-11 very interesting. (Although, I don't know how much of that actually got saved, but you get my meaning.)

What will happen to our digital identities in the future? Will they be carried forward for generations, copied from one database to another, or simply get erased due to inactivity after we're gone?

I've heard many historians wonder aloud how they will do historical research in the future. Today, much is learned by perusing old letters, notebooks, etc. With so much being done today in word processors and email, they say, what will future historians have to look at?

Maybe this is the answer. Maybe we have an obligation to our descendants to preserve all this new digital information we are producing for use after we are gone. Maybe we need a Digital Will and Testament. ("Little Johnny is to get sole access to my email, but you can each have a copy of my photo albums!") Maybe we should all have a slip of paper in a safe deposit box with all of our Internet user IDs and passwords - just in case.

There was a mention in the comments to the journal entry linked above about parents of a soldier that died in Iraq trying to get access to his Yahoo email account to preserve some of his last thoughts and communications. They were (probably rightly) denied - it was against the privacy rules that their son had agreed to upon signing up for Yahoo email.

Just something to think about. And if this is my great-grandson reading this decades from now - you're welcome. ;-)


At April 05, 2006 3:48 PM, Anonymous Matt said...

One of the biggest problems these days is how to rescue data off old formats. I know I have programs and things the I wrote when we were kids playing with computers that I'd love to look at now. Of course, I'm not sure if anyone else would want to look at them!

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