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After Death, Some Choose to Continue Their Online Lives

Funerals of the Future, as Seen Through a High-Tech Lens
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Death is final, leaving those of us who survive with memories, photos and the belongings of those who have passed. But now technology and the internet may be changing some of death's finality: your digital imprint can live on after your death.

After Death, Some Choose to Continue Their Online Lives
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What happens to our images on social media or the internet after we die?

Evan Carroll is someone who thinks a lot about this question. Carroll co-wrote a book called, “Your Digital Afterlife.”

He says there are companies that will collect your passwords and online information. These businesses then provide all the important details to your family so they can make sure your accounts are settled after you die.

Carroll said some online businesses will put together the digital story of your life -- to keep your memory alive long after you die. Some companies will even send out messages for you to your friends and family members after your death.

There are some concerns, however. Carroll said one problem is that it is normal to put off dealing with death. Many people hope and believe death is far off into the future.

Another problem is that companies sometimes go out of business. In other words, they might not be around when you die to send along your messages and passwords.

Your Post-Death Facebook Page

Facebook says it has 1.71 billion monthly users worldwide, making it the largest social media website.

Carroll said people are not happy getting messages on their Facebook Page about birthdays for friends who died.

Now, Facebook will let a friend or relative “memorialize” a Facebook friend’s page, as long as they can provide proof of the death. That can be a copy of a death notice reporting the death.

In 2015, Facebook set up another program. It lets a person choose a family member or friend who can supervise the individual’s Facebook account after they die.

That person can write information about a memorial service, or share a special message or memory, Facebook said.

Digital Memories Created at Museum

One group working to create digital memories is the Hereafter Institute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California.

Started a year ago, the institute offers people the chance to learn how they can plan their digital afterlife.

People who visit Hereafter learn how personal information and video images can be placed into a piece of jewelry as a future memorial.

The founder of the institute is Gabriel Barcia-Colombo. He used old audio, pictures and videos to create a lasting video about his grandfather.

Video lets people think about how friends and family members “moved, or reacted to jokes or how they laughed,” he said.

Watching the images of his grandfather was important to him, Barcia-Colombo said. “To be able to see him walking again…was very moving to me.”

People who visit the institute get a body scan. They can then watch as an image of that body scan walks into the distance.

Carolina Miranda is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times newspaper. She recently spent time at the Institute.

She said the image works as a memorial, although it is not exactly a perfect copy.

“I don’t think it would ever be in danger of becoming something that you could almost grow attached to because it’s a replacement of that person,” Miranda said.

Barcia-Colombo said the goal of his institute is to make people think about what is possible and what they might want to do with their online memories after they die.

Elizabeth Lee reported this story for Bruce Alpert adapted her report and did additional reporting. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on our Facebook Page. How do you want to be remembered online?


Words in this Story

password - n. a secret word or phrase that a person must know before being given permission to enter a place or connect to a website or email

online - adj. connected to a computer, a computer network, or the Internet​

digital - adj. using or characterized by computer technology

account - n. a record of money that has been paid and money that has been received

proof - n. something that shows something is true or correct

body scan - n. a machine that creates an image of a person's body