TED Conversations

Adam Ostrow

Executive Editor, Mashable


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LIVE CHAT With Adam Ostrow: What should happen to your digital identity after you die?

The average social media user will create hundreds of thousands of pieces of content in their lifetime. Already, this is changing the way we remember our loved ones and creating a legacy that is much different than that of any previous generation.

At the same time, technology's ability to understand vast amounts of data is expanding exponentially, and in the long run, enabling the possibility of leveraging our social media footprint to create a version of us that can live on long after we're gone.

What do you want to have happen to your digital identity after you die? Would you give an AI permission to post content and interact online after your death? Why or why not?

ADMIN UPDATE: This LIVE CHAT will open on August 9, 2011 at 2PM EST/ 5PM PST.


Closing Statement from Adam Ostrow

A few thoughts in closing:

(1) There's a large interest in people assigning an executor for their digital assets after they die. A number of startups already serve this need. One issue with this though -- what happens when the services noted in the will change, close, get acquired, etc? That will create similar issues to the ambiguous wills of today.

(2) Lots of questions about whether or not the complete recreation of ones self, which I forecast towards the end of my talk, could make it more challenging to find closure. Outside of that, however, it at the very least seems like an intriguing opportunity for future generations to get to know their ancestors.

(3) In thinking about this topic, it's important to remember that the social media tools of today are incredibly primitive compared to what we'll be using in the future. The type of data we'll be capturing 5, 10 or 50 years from now is what's needed to make an AI-powered scenario realistic.

(4) Thanks to those that shared their personal stories of already dealing with these issues. It's a huge help in thinking about the topic going forward.

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    Aug 9 2011: I like Zane Thorn's comment; legacy is an important issue. We will leave a legacy no matter what. We can't exactly control that either; we will be remembered by different people differently. My grandmother wanted me to write her life's story after she was gone, but I finally convinced her that if she wanted her biographer to get it right, she should write it herself! I helped her do some of that.

    Being remembered, and being remembered well is important to some people. After all the Stuff we do in this life, it is the relationships we create with other people that will matter the most.I am into genealogy research. Being able to research on the internet you turn up all sorts of traces nowadays for people who have lived part of their lives through the internet. I appreciate that there is an archive-of sorts, of this electronic world, but don't count on that. Write your life's story if you want your great grand children to know about you. You don't want to be - Page Not Found. Publish or Perish, or publish And perish.

    I believe that the part of us that is living this life in this body endures after the death of the body. Memorials and tributes for the dead are mostly for the grieving of the living. I don't know that re-opening a facebook page is my kind of memorial ( there are other places for that), but that was interesting. My father was in the cemetery business. He wanted to implant something into the headstone (like they have photographs now) that would play a video of the person's life, even written and orchestrated by the deceased themselves. That is certainly possible now. If our spirit lives on then we can take comfort in not being so attached to our digital identities maybe.

    I want to live my life now without regrets. Life is a work in progress. I don't doubt that there will be loose ends no matter when I go. Maybe one of the duties of an executor would be to tie up the loose ends in the electronic world, too. Sigh
    • Aug 9 2011: My grandmother was very interested in genealogy, and when she died unexpectedly, no one was able to access the records stored on her computer. A huge piece of our family history, as well as a very important person was all lost at once. It is one of the reasons I am in the line of work that I am today.
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      Aug 9 2011: Interesting -- I have to imagine that technology will become part of the executor's role at some point. The gentleman that told me about how he put a QR code on his mother's tombstone that links to an online memorial said that the funeral home is now offering that service to all of his customers.

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