From time to time I check old emails, to see which of these at that moment has become obsolete and can be discarded. On some such occasions I may decide ‘to give it a try’: and will send an email to find out whether the connection still exists. And at the age past sixty, the occasions occur with increasing frequency on which the server responds with a text like ‘this address is not known at ‘YouMailMe-dot-Com’. Or, somewhat more striking, a reply comes with a text like this: “Thank you for your mail. My father died one year ago but we kept this address for a while, in order to inform those people we had not been able to locate to send a notice of his death.”
When posting photo’s on websites like www.flickr.com, I noticed another phenomenon typical of the digital era, expressed by the message on such website (or group within the website) that you and I visit, telling: “welcome <back> dear guest. And let us not forget the good work by Verena Ashley Connover (name invented by DM) who left us, but whose photos you still can find in the postings of our group”. Or, “Remember Verena, whose album we still cherish with joy”.
Some time ago I wrote a comment to an artist, via his website containing artwork that appealed to me. My words were aimed to express my appreciation, and a few weeks later were answered by a reply to my mailbox, telling that the artist’s son, out of esteem and admiration for his father, kept the website online for continued digital accessibility of his father’s artworks.
With graves in my country being excavated often at 50 years or even less after burial, one may wonder at which time the heirs of an individual might decide to stop such a website, or when welcoming messages like the above are erased/deleted.
My perception became more grounded, that a search nowadays on the web for signs of (life of) someone, with increasing frequency results in the impression that the person is indeed alive and kicking, whereas the truth is different.
The creation of a memorial
It is of course, an option to transform the website of someone that died, or the account of a deceased member on a social medium into a place to commemorate. When I searched the internet some months ago (April, 2016) with the words “a website to commemorate”, there was an immediate find.
And next, dear readers, I tested the web what it would produce for the words “death on the internet”, and no surprise, there is a Wikipedia page appearing. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_and_the_Internet).
In it, the phrase can be found “As the Internet age progresses it will come to a point where inactive accounts of deceased people will outnumber those of active users”.
And focus is on the position / attitude of several social media and large email providers, as to how these deal with the death of stakeholders.
For heirs and sometimes friends of a deceased, the responsibility arises how to deal with the digital inheritance, next to the need to organize a proper farewell of a friend or family-member.
The Wikipedia page mentioned above, even indicates the existence of organizations that safeguard one’s ‘digital inheritance’ and which only yield access to those persons that have been supplied by an ‘activation code’ by the holder during his/her lifetime. See it complimentary to the testimony you have arranged.
The unknown death
The above situation, of people that at first sight may seem alive, but only their presence on the internet has remained while their physical presence has ended is paralleled by a gap that will persist for the next 10-20 years. And now I’m talking about people of the present time, that do not exist on the internet. They have no account. They do not belong to people of whom a company or newspaper will announce a in memoriam after their death. These may be schoolmates of me, that I search for traces of digital existence, and no such trace is to be found. And we tend to forget that some people have no digital existence.
This short notice has no motto, no advise. It is just aimed to express my surprise.
(c) Drager Meurtant, 28-01-2017