Delete Sensitive Files

Approaches to Information Management

Susan would often return in her memories to the time after John’s death. She was trying to understand what she could do in order to prevent at least some of the situations she went through. She remembered her frustration when Amy and her would go through all the things at his home. They would feel like gold-miners, trying to find hints about anything that needed their attention. Her way to get over the difficult times was to laugh about them. She would often share a story about looking for computer files that would have an interest to be preserved. First of all, they found out that John didn’t have any system for organizing of his files. He was a good photographer and they wanted to keep some of his pictures. Luckily, his photographs were all together. In a folder called ‘holidays’ they found photos from his last trip to Paris. In one of them, his girl-friend was laying naked in an erotic pose on the bed of the hotel room.

The Life of Personal Digital Information

The digital technologies are based on basic human experiences––the birth, the life and the death. The information and information management also correspond to this life cycle. The information created, kept, sent out, or experienced by us in any other way, is relevant to us, but it may become pertinent to our survivors after our death. It can help them put the deceased and their matters to rest. Our information may be necessary to fulfill the duties of the bereaved or to comfort their emotional needs. Information such as the email conversations in our inbox, may be directly related to the bereaved, while information like our name, address and date of birth may be already in their possession.

We keep, find and manage our information in order to meet our anticipated needs, but to foresee the urges of the bereaved is more difficult. Some of their needs for information retrieval are based on common patterns in the bureaucratic processes. For instance, we can be sure that they will need our identification documents and a list of our property, such as titles of houses, cars or information about our bank accounts and alike. If any of these exist in digital form, they should be stored in a special place that is known or easily detected. We may also consider to include them in our personal inventories. Although most of our digital content is insignificant and only about ten percent of the data kept by us is ever accessed again, we should pay a special attention to our sensitive files, as most of us keep on our personal devices stuff that we don’t want to be discovered by our family or friends. Coming across an erotic picture in the middle of a photo album from family holidays, may be unnecessary and provide constraints or embarrassing situations to our bereaved. This information should be discarded or hidden in inaccessible places, for example, in an encrypted or password-protected file. We may also use some of the existing web-based services, such as Legacy Locker, to do this job for us.

Our bereaved and us, we can both become equally frustrated, if we don’t find what we were looking for, or if we encounter the desired information at an inopportune time, when they are not necessary anymore. The frustration may appear from the uncertainty of what we (or them) are looking for, from not knowing its location, by whom it is kept and so on. Our efforts in finding information are supported by our contextual memories regarding space, event, date or time. Yet, these dissolve over time and eventually die with us, so the act of finding gets much more difficult for us and can become almost impossible for others if we don’t leave any hints behind. After the death of an individual, along with the social death, the personal information vanish, as it becomes part of other people’s personal information spaces and information inflow gradually reduces. Indeed, the dead and death remain important factors that influence the living and the bereaved.

A small note can help the survivors to understand what to preserve, maintain, discard, forget and deal with one’s public records. If we are especially concerned about preserving and distributing some of our digital artifacts, such as photographs, we may as well make several paper-based copies and give them to the designated people throughout our life. Establishing an organizational scheme that accounts for structure, naming convention, synchronization and backups is very useful for the living but may also simplify the emotionally difficult period after one’s death. Practicing the approaches and strategies of personal information management on a small scale can help us in more complex situations.