Putting to Rest

Death-Proof Information Management

Susan’s dad John passed away when she was still very young. She and her sister Amy were the only two direct relatives, so they had to take care of everything. They had never had to deal with a death within such proximity. It was overwhelming to have to organize the funeral, go through all the bureaucratic processes, heritage and so on. After a couple of months, they managed to put his stuff more or less to rest. Finally they had a little time for grieving and mourning. This experience made her think about her possessions. She had some bank accounts spread across different countries where she had lived over the time. She was an active blogger, member of many online social networks and had many web-based accounts. She had an iPhone, several computers, hard drives, iPod, and so on. Susan cared a lot for her family and friends. She didn’t want anybody to go through all the painful situations that she encountered after her father’s death.

Reducing the Impact of Digital Death

The death of a close person can disrupt even our most familiar practices, routines and interactions, from cleaning to paying bills. The bereaved family members have to contend with a series of emotionally charged and stressful activities and circumstances, while undergoing their personal grieving process. The bereavement is easier in an environment where everybody agrees upon which death-related practices, cultural and religious, are appropriate. Otherwise, it can lead to elevated personal fragility, the bereaved may be caught in the limb of regret and re-establishing a sense of emotional balance can endure for long periods of time.

Since our lives are increasingly mediated by new technologies, obviously, the digital artifacts are present and may be needed, while putting to rest the issues, belongings and personal identity of the deceased. We create large collections of digital objects and data. Our digital artifacts have different value for us according to established relationships and their durability. For our survivors, the documents such as tax records can be valuable for their usefulness, while a collection of tweets or photographs can be precious for its potential to chronicle our lives.

The mechanisms to deal with the digitals artifacts are still in their childhood. The bereaved have to gather all of our scattered devices, physical and cloud-based storage media and digital assets, in order to retrieve our information. It can become a nuisance, if we don’t leave any guidance to where our stuff is and how to understand it, since every practice of personal information management is unique. Personal information is necessary for putting the dead to rest and also to preserve (or forget) the memories. Implementation of sustainable practices can significantly reduce the impact of the digital death on the bereaved. We can employ a coherent organizational scheme and structure across all of our devices and media, assign a digital executor or leave instructions on how to deal with our digital possession.