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Posted at 12:37 PM ET, 01/ 6/2011

The (Digital) Afterlife

By T. Rees Shapiro

What happens when that tweet from late last night becomes your very last?

What if that awkward Facebook status update -- such as admitting that Glee's rendition of "Lucky," like, totally melts your heart -- is your final shout out to the world?

A couple of stories within the past year have explored these questions by examining what happens to your digital afterlife.

A Washington Post story from a year ago, and a New York Times magazine piece this week, go into detail about new web sites that promise to watch after your life on the internet when you die.

Both articles talk about the idea of a "digital executor," a person you assign before your death to be in charge of your digital effects. This digital executor could delete your internet browser's history (don't want anybody to know you secretly read Perez Hilton?), or even save all of your Tumblr posts to a thumbdrive for safekeeping.

The articles say that in today's super social networked society, our digital lives and our "real" lives are becoming more and more synchronous.

When people of a younger ages die today, one of the first places friends go to memorialize that person is on Twitter or Facebook.

A few years ago, I wrote a series of articles about Emily Dao, a fellow college student at Virginia Tech, who was battling stage IV colon cancer.

Throughout her ordeal, Emily kept in touch with friends by e-mail, AIM chats, and Facebook updates.

As I wrote about her I became part of a group of people who followed her struggle online. I found out that she died on Aug. 12, 2009 at age 20 by noticing that her friends had started posting remembrances on her Facebook wall.

While it was sad to tell the story about her death, a part of Emily lives on: in the past week, eight different people have left messages on her Facebook wall.

By T. Rees Shapiro  | January 6, 2011; 12:37 PM ET
Categories:  T. Rees Shapiro  | Tags:  Facebook, Twitter, digital afterlife  
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