from the you'll-miss-me-when-I'm-gone dept
The unprecedented public outpouring of grief in the technical community at the death of Steve Jobs seems to go well beyond the fact that he was an undeniably important and powerful figure in that world for several decades. Perhaps it's because the people involved in technology are disproportionately young compared to most other industries: death often seems very far away at that age. The demise of the charismatic Jobs comes as brutal reminder that even leaders of the most successful companies must, one day, die. And hence, by implication, that we too will die.
Alongside the many issues and problems that death raises in the physical world, there are also new ones in the online sphere. For example: what happens to your digital presence - social networking accounts, email etc. - when you die? Who will have the passwords that will allow them to access your online spaces in the same way that spare keys given to relatives and friends will unlock your home?
On the site you create an account with your name and enter who your next of kin is and their email address. You also enter an encryption key that the recipient would know (i.e. the last four digits of your social security number). And then you enter the data, passwords and more that you want your next of kin to takeover once you pass. When you die, this information will be passed on to the recipient.
One intriguing issue is determining when you have passed on:
So how does PassMyWill figure out when you are actually dead? You connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts on the site, and the startup will monitor how often you are posting and what is being posted on your wall. Once PassMyWill is convinced you may be gone, your next of kin receives the 'Dead Manís Switch' e-mail.
False positives could be a problem here, but there's a more serious issue: what happens if the company offering this kind of backup service itself closes? After all, startups are even more mortal than humans.
These and related questions are going to become ever-more pressing as the population of computer users ages, and more of them die, leaving their digital selves trapped in a strange, modern kind of limbo. Now might be a good time to start thinking about how to solve these novel problems Ė while we are still alive.