09/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Digital Immortality and Death 2.0

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Without coming across as too macabre and curmudgeonly, we'll simply say that with dawn of the internet, the business of death has gotten a lot more complicated these days. Consider that wills once existed for the sole purpose of ceding ownership of physical objects, and quests for immortality - things like cryonics, transhumanism, fountains of youth and religion (ahem) - remained firmly planted in the realms of fantasy, but as the lines between our real and digital worlds continue to blur, these customs have changed. The things we leave behind, from virtual businesses to entire online lives, now have an immaterial existence and longevity all their own.

cemetery headstones

During our Good Ideas Salon held in London earlier this year, Richard Banks spoke about the enduring byproducts of our new technologies - emails, photos and bookmarks - referring to them as "digital heirlooms". While these streams of information, particularly in the case of social media, are ephemeral in the moment that they are broadcast out onto the web, they continue to exist in the digital space beyond the point at which they were conceived. When taken together, this multitude of eternal data forms a history of a person's life.

Banks points to the obligation that people often feel after someone has passed, holding onto physical artifacts in as a means to simultaneously honor their lives and maintain some semblance of a connection. With that in mind, one has to wonder if these same emotional attachments translate to less tangible (but equally important) inheritances like Facebook pages and WordPress blogs, and asks the larger question of how our practices will adapt to this further shift online?

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