Thanatosensitive Information Management

The personal information management of the living has been studied for quite some time. It addresses questions related to personal information space and the approaches and tools used to take charge of it, as well as to protect their resources. Information is anything from the physical document or some other thing to the abstract means of reducing uncertainty. According to Michael K. Buckland, we can consider as information an email message, a book, along with a globe.

Death has implications beyond the individual’s life-span and personal control. Yet, we seldom realize them until we experience death within proximity. Planning for death is often postponed or ignored, because it causes discomfort and anxiety. The personal information which we create, keep, send out or experience in any other way, is often overlooked. When a person dies, the bereaved have to hold the funeral ceremony and take care of the dead’s belongings among other things, while putting the matters of the deceased to rest. They are often confronted by complications with privacy, social entitlement and even false re-animation of the dead. The digital information is involved in many of these activities and problems. The information relevant to us while alive, becomes pertinent to our survivors.

We introduce the thanatosensitive information management which focuses on practices, regarding digital information, that may be implemented in our daily personal information management. Its aim is to help the bereaved to fulfill their duties and reduce the impact of death on them by advocating the best practices to the living. Essentially, the thanatosensitive information management of the deceased gains two forms. It can be anticipated by the living or dying before, or practiced by the bereaved after, the death of an individual. We should have the right to express our wishes regarding our digital legacy. A one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t exist, as each person has unique methods which reflect the personality, cognitive abilities, age group, experience, various life-roles, available tools and spaces, special circumstances, and so on. The purpose of this website is to share thoughts and ideas, for discussion and self-reflection, that may eventually serve as inspiration for the development of better personal strategies.

Ideally, we would manage only the most important of our digital artifacts using tools that acknowledge for user’s death. We would make sure that our information is comprehensible, has a meaningful organizational scheme and that it is safely stored. Even then, having our information organized and accessible can produce side effects and lead to a bigger vulnerability and to its misuse. We can prevent these by developing and adopting sustainable practices of personal information management of our digital files and understanding thoroughly the best practices for the protection of digital artifacts. We may also hope that the legal systems catch up with the pace of the technology evolution.

For the purpose of this work, we augment the definition of thanatosensitivity, created by Michael Massimi and Andrea Charise in the paper Dying, Death, and Mortality: Towards Thanatosensitivity in HCI, as follows:

Thanatosensitivity is a humanistically-grounded approach to person’s physical and digital belongings, supported in research and design, that recognizes and actively engages with the facts of mortality, dying, and death, with regards to interpersonal relationships, where belongings refer to a set of everything that can be associated, attached, close or related to an individual’s existence.

Thanatosensitive information management regards people in different stages of their lives. The living need overall to get things done. The bereaved have to take care of their daily routines at the same time as undergoing their personal grieving processes and managing the information of the deceased. The dying have essentially the same needs as the living, only that certain actions, such as organizing and passing on their information, may be influenced by the proximity of death. The management of the dead’s personal information theoretically pauses at the moment of the death, while resumes almost immediately after the event because, for example, the information about the dead has to be communicated to family, friends, and institutions.