Digital Possessions: What happens when you die? | Part I


I don’t like being morbid but I find the topic of a digital afterlife extremely fascinating. Being present and engaged in life is a great way to live; however, it’s difficult to not think about the things which seem beyond our control. It’s already difficult to keep my life in order and I see myself as a pretty organized person. Why do I need to think about what happens to my digital possessions? Does it matter? Will it matter? After some consideration, I realized I’ve got  a bit of stuff in the digital universe – a blog, art writing, pictures, videos, and important documentation (i.e., financial statements, tax information, etc.). I’m leaving a legacy but is there value? Who determines the value after I’m gone? Does this mean I have to leave my Mom, partner, and best friend a list of all my accounts, usernames, and passwords in a safe deposit box [scratches head, I’ll just e-mail them]?

Seriously though.

Having been through the passing of my father and grandmother in the past few years, this was not an issue. Believe it or not, neither one of them used the internet (ever). Yes. It’s true. Those people still exist (i.e., my maternal grandfather who is fortunately still with us never used the net nor does he have any interest in doing so). Yet, when a friend passed away some time ago, this thought of memorializing and digital self started to fascinate me. As I saw his Facebook profile fill up with well wishes in the afterlife (whether on one exists or not is a separate discussion), I started to wonder about the way we depict ourselves online. Friend and fellow blogger, Shirley Rivera, posted an article on her wall about the digital afterlife, that this piqued my interest (again). People always mention being careful what share online because this is a part of what you leave behind. For instance, when Heavy D passed away, the news anchor finished off by saying, “Heavy D’s last Tweet: Be Inspired“. Granted, if some celebrity’s last tweet was, “I’m lovin’ these bagels right now” or “Oooo, The Motto is my jam, turn that sh*t up”, I’m pretty sure they would spare the deceased the embarrassment but it is the internet, people will go looking for your legacy! Your digital life speaks volumes of who you might be. Crazy, eh?

I decided to break this discussion up into a few parts, this serves as the introduction. Check out Your Digital Afterlife here and tell me what you think. I’m interested on what your thoughts are. In addition, with each part on this topic will be supplemented with an artist whose work touches upon the idea of a digital/virtual self, death, and loss.

For Part I, I wanted to [re]introduce you to Kenneth Lo. I’ve written about his work in a earlier post, which you can view here. You have to see his work in person the next time he has a show. For now, please visit his site and feel free to leave comments and/or questions about his work.

Advertisements

Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos is a writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research areas and interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, networked culture, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She is currently the managing editor for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and Public Art Dialogue. She has lectured and spoken at the De Young museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” has been published to The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture in 2016. She serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism, board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center, and teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Digital Art and New Media department.

10 thoughts on “Digital Possessions: What happens when you die? | Part I”

  1. Interestingly, I just finished watching “The Ghost Whisperer” right before seeing your blog. (I really like the show even though I don’t believe in ghosts.)

    I really like the video because it’s fresh and new, and I agree it’s something to consider. It’s part of getting our things in order. As for what I (digitally, or otherwise) emit over the ethereal equilibrium, I take it as a given that once out there, it’s already subject to community property, so to speak.

    As opposed to Dorothy’s digital information, mine has no clean pickins’ and leaves much to be desired, as if I were a blissful non-entity. Anyways…

    I think that as long as there is digital language there is digital hardware; and subsequently, digital material to be managed according to new ideas, new dictates and new methods.

    Back to the video, the artist is smart and talented. He presented important issue(s) and conveyed them in an entertaining way so that we can’t help but not to ignore it.

    Doesn’t that Heavy D statement remind you of the monk hanging on a branch from a cliff, and just before he fell he saw a berry, ate it and said ‘hmm, this is delicious!’

    Seriously, If I knew Heavy D I would have sent him a picture of my cat Vinnie doing ‘rap’.

    Commenting on ‘that separate discussion’, it calls to mind a piece of Laura Nyro’s song that goes “…’Swear there ain’t no living, and I pray there ain’t no hell. But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell, only my dying will tell.”

    1. Your comment reminds me my time at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. We we were advised to not bring in any mobile devices. Some did not follow that recommendation, which upset me. I think it upset me because we’re not our devices and its not as if our blood runs through laptops, mobile phones, or tablets. Yet, when I started looking at this idea of digital possessions, I found myself wondering how I would feel if my blog was taken down or if there was no legacy and it just got buried in cyberspace. I will definitely address in the next part, an assertion that my friend has about virtual life. He believes that it doesn’t exist. I actually agree with some of his arguments. Then again, it could just all be semantics. I do believe in an alternate reality but not so sure about a virtual one. Naturally, when I think of my digital self, it’s predominantly that of an aspiring art writer, culture critic, and historian. Yet, in my real waking, physical life…some people don’t even know that I write about art. So, which is more real and what is going to be valued upon my demise, which I’m hoping is not for a long (long) time.

  2. i am looking forward to the parts you are offering up for this discussion. on kenneth, i did not see his show; i definitely enjoyed your write up about his work. i remember being moved when i read your write up – and once again, visiting his work on-line this time around continues to be moving. thanks for the (re)introduction!

    on digital possessions – your post also is timely for me. i am in the process of pulling the VHS tapes into DVD format for my mom … videos of family, including my dad who died in 2002. he had an aol account, and months after he died, we were responding to emails from his colleagues and friends. we eventually closed his aol account (albeit not a straightforward feat to do so) after a year or so. … anyway, i’m rambling, but there ya go for now. hugs!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Shirley. You don’t know much this dialogue means to me. I’m hoping I can punch out a Part II relatively soon. I might as well since your Facebook posting on the digital afterlife resurrected (pun intended) all of these latent ideas I had around this topic. I even pulled out one of my undergrad philosophy books titled, “Images of the Human Person: The Philosophy of the Human Person in a Religious Context”. There are atheist philosophers included in the anthology. But anyway, I’m happy you re-visited Ken’s work. He’s an awesome artist that takes something such as death and loss and puts an entirely different spin on it. Thanks again and hugs right back. 🙂

    1. THANK YOU, Roberto. Life is a trip and art is a confirmation of that. I think art just really keeps me going. Trying to connect conceptual and modern art to people in a way that sticks is important to me. It fosters some really important dialogue. Again, thank you so much…I definitely I’m happy that a mega brainiac like you is reading and joining the conversation. Very much appreciated.

    1. Evan!! Thank you so much for commenting. I really appreciate it. I’m making my way through Your Digital Afterlife and will certainly let you know what I think of it. Thus far, it’s extremely helpful and a great resource in looking at how we spend our time online and what we hope to leave behind. As a matter of fact, it may become one of my sources for my research topics around identity representation online.

      Most importantly, my condolences for your grandmother’s passing. Having read your post, “Life Experiences”, I can see how the digital age helped in showcasing her legacy. It’s funny because when posting photos of my father, I have to remind myself of what he would have wanted shown to the world. I don’t think he would be unhappy at all since I’d like to think I’m familiar with his favorite moments. Again, I want to extend my sincerest gratitude for your comment. Looking forward to staying connected!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s