What happens to our digital data when we die?


Our digital data could create a digital legacy for future generations. — AFP Relaxnews

What becomes of our digital data after our death? Canadian computer researchers have come up with 12 concepts that would allow us to transmit this personal information to our family with the help of innovative tools based on personalisation and privacy.

Our digital data is becoming increasingly important in our society. However, while it may be becoming increasingly important while we are alive, once our time is up, this data becomes largely useless with one exception: for our families.

There’s no shortage of stories about families “hacking” Facebook, Google accounts or even phones in order to retrieve useful data or memories.

Earlier research has shown the importance of preparing one’s digital data for death, even if the process remains tedious. Facilitating it would require a simple tool, so that the individual in question doesn’t leave the responsibility of digital data to another person.

A recent study out of the University of British Columbia, Canada, looked at 12 purely hypothetical concepts of possible methods and forms that could allow children to obtain a digital legacy from their parents. The researchers presented their concepts to 20 people (aged 18 to 81) and asked them how they felt about these new proposals.

“The Box of Data”, “Memory Swipe”, “Blast from the Past” and “Generation Cloud” are among the different tools conceptualised that could be used to allow the deceased to pass their data to the next generation.

With “The Box of Datam” the goal is to share, for example, a top-10 list of the most listened songs of your life on vinyl or postcards of your 10 most-visited places (thanks to Google maps data). Unlike the other ideas, the data box is the only one to offer physical content, something innately cherished. This speculative concept was judged as a positive idea by 13 of the 20 participants.

Data cannot represent the entirety of an individual

Another concept was nearly unanimously postively received. “Generation Cloud” would allow you to store your most cherished moments, photos, trips, songs, important information, family tree in a kind of Google drive, making it easy to pass this information on from one generation to another.

This was the most popular concept (approved by 15 out of 20 people), and participants valued its ability to establish a personal connection to their collective family history.

“That’s a great concept. I’m really into family tree aspects and knowing your family and previous generations, that is very interesting to me,” said one 52-year-old participant.

While the study’s concepts provide ideas for extending the life of our data (and thus a form of existence), it can become a burden on families when no one is involved. Participants who had experienced loss were more aware of the potential burden created after death for the bereaved.

These participants felt that the experience of bereavement could prompt them to prepare for death.

For example, a 75-year-old retired teacher was motivated by her mother’s death to reduce the number of her physical possessions for her children: “I have so many papers and I’m trying to get rid of some because I don’t want this task to be a daunting for my kids. I cleared my mother’s house and it’s a struggle. The time is limited, you’re feeling very sad and you don’t have the judgment.”

In the same vein, she created a digital file called “where my stuff is” that her children can access after her death.

Among the 12 concepts, one of the ideas, which seems to come straight out of a science fiction movie, wasn’t positively received by all.

“Blast from the Past” proposes to create a replica of the deceased person powered by AI and based on all their available data. Using VR headsets, their descendants could then chat with them.

This idea did not convince the participants; just five of them had a positive response. For them, the replicas had a creepy vibe.

“That’s not the way I wanna remember someone...”, one of the participants, aged 57, recoiled. “You’ve taken a complex human being and made them a little digital icon.”

These reactions suggested to the team that our society is not ready to accept bringing back a deceased person through technology as a proper form of remembrance.

Prior to the interviews, few of the participants had prepared their data in anticipation of death. After discussing the concepts, most participants felt that preparing data in anticipation of death was important to consider. – AFP Relaxnews

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digital data , death , legacy

   

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