I've been wondering lately about the digital implications of my mortal end. What happens to my websites when I die? The profitable ones will be part of my estate, and the prominent community site will get an endowment. But what about the vanity sites and the blog that provide public windows on my ego? Will the binary bit flag of the hereafter just cancel them out when my credit card fails to process the ISP's monthly charge? Or will they somehow carry on until the domain names fail to renew?
Perhaps, despite the odds, they will defy the gravitational pull of the aether and continue amusing and infuriating the masses. I still won't respond to their flurry of e-mails, of course, but at least I'll have a good excuse.
These despondent thoughts arose while I was seeking HatsOfMeat.com. Lamentably, this glorious site, and the equally brilliant ManBeef.com, have long-since dissolved into the ephemeral dust of the Internet of my youth. Oh, how I longed for images of a brisket yarmulke emblazoned with a horseradish star of David!
Fortunately, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine ( www.archive.org/web/web.php ) captured these sites in their glory, saving them for prosperity and the greater good of mankind.
While visiting the archive, I did some ego-surfing and was amazed at the depth of its content. Even my first Interlog.com website from 1995 was there. Viewing the HTML source code was embarrassing, but nostalgically progressing through an extra chronological dimension - the archive's periodic Internet snapshots - was fascinating.
It's easy to make content live forever, but context dies quickly in hypertext environments where 404 pages are rotting corpses and expired domains are ashes in the wind. But that's the nature of reflecting and writing upon the fluid stream of bits. It's all temporal, like our own lives, and it's all about the "now." Properly prepared, however, it doesn't have to be.
Run by a not-for-profit organization, afterlife.org 's mission is to archive websites after their authors die and can no longer support them.
At the free site mydeath.net , you can leave full instructions for what you want done in the event of your death, and write your own obituary.
Planning the digital aspect of death has never been easier. Thanks to deathclock.com , I know that the date of my demise will be Tuesday, August 13, 2047. Now I just need to plan the party for Monday the 12th and, of course the after-party.
Since I find cryonics ( www.alcor.org ) creepy and coffin cams ( seemerot.com ) abhorrent on every level, I'll probably just go for a traditional burial. I won't make a gemstone from my ashes ( www.lifegem.com ) or leave my heirs a ring made of my own bone ( biojewelry.co.uk ).
I'll ask that Captain Q. Farf say the eulogy, and that Jay Englishman sing Staring At The Sun. A few hours later, the Dead Man's Switch (DMS) on my server will fail to be reset and numerous pre-designated tasks will execute.
DMS will give me the last word, as long as my server doesn't crash post-mortem. It's a shareware program written by Aryeh Holzer that, if not reset by a given time, will automatically post messages to websites (i.e., my blog, and discussion forums where I participate), send e-mails to loved ones (or hated ones) and encrypt or destroy sensitive files. DMS will also allow me to purge anything that might be embarrassing to my successors - like bad poetry and downloaded country music.
I'll leave a full list of accounts and passwords in my will so my 13 intended children won't need to fight companies for access that contravenes privacy policies. (Yahoo recently refused a Michigan father whose son died in Iraq access to his son's e-mail.) I'll also include the passphrase for my PGP key, the passwords for my computers, my bankcard PIN, a map to my buried treasure(s) and the security combination for my bike lock. I don't understand why people are so often negligent about this.
My music, my writing and my ideas will persist in databases and backups on Moon-based teraflop servers. Maybe someone will even care as much for me as others did for Aaron of Uppity Negro fame ( www.uppity-negro.com/archives/001943.html ) and maintain the archives of my electronic life.
Of course, the Web won't be the Web any more by 2047. And all the content I've created will be quaint artifacts, like the horse and buggy at Pioneer Village.
Then, one or two steps after death, I'll lose control and let the Web have its way with me and my digital bits.