Ignite: Death and the Digital Legacy

Mac Tonnies was an author and speaker from Kansas City.

Like many writers, he was active in many social media communities: He wrote a blog, had a Twitter account, posted photos to Flickr and many others.

Sunday, October 18th was a normal day for Tonnies. He posted thoughts for his Twitter followers and put some photos up on his blog.

Those posts would be his last. Tonnies died in his sleep that night.

So began Montreal-based marketer Adele McAlear’s speed presentation at the first Ignite Ottawa.

Her topic: Death and the Digital Legacy.

Tonnies’ absence was noticed almost immediately by those who followed him online and they began speculating as to what had happened. The first post in the comments on Tonnies’ blog announcing that he’d passed away was first regarded as a hoax but later confirmed.

This led to the question as to what should be done with all the digital content Tonnies generated throughout his life.

Photos were stored on a paid Flickr account which would run out one the credit card was cancelled and the situation was the same across all paid services Tonnies’ was using to store his content.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that his family didn’t own a computer themselves.

Although members of Tonnies’ community were willing to step up and archive the info, this was still a touchy situation.

“Do you let someone go through your son’s things?” asked McAlear.

To deal with such situations, McAlear suggests appointing a digital executor, someone who’ll know your wishes for what should be done with all your online content after your passing.

The key piece of info this person will need, said McAlear, is the e-mail password, which will allow the executor to perform password resets on other online accounts.

“Talk to your friends and family today,” she said.

In the case of Tonnies’ work, his community created an archive to memorialize it. But when appointing the digital executor, you also need to decide if that’s really what you want done with your content.

McAlear ended her presentation with a quote from Montreal software developer Sylvain Carle: “Maybe death is a good time to go offline.”