The Future of Death In A Digital Age

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4 min read

I've started watching a very interesting Netflix series called "The Future Of". A documentary series exploring how new developments in technology and other innovations will change our lives in the future.

The episode that caught my attention broached the subject of "Life After Death" and spoke about how through holograms and voice cloning, the approach to how we come to terms with death and say goodbye to our loved ones on passing will change. Some ideas presented were inspired, others not so much.

Strangely enough, the points raised resonated with me. Probably because I've put great importance on preserving memories through photos and ensuring I will always have these throughout my lifetime to look back on and act as a time capsule about my family for generations after me.

Life and Our Social Digital Footprint

After death, we not only leave behind our loved ones but also a big trail of data! If you could put a number on the amount of data we collect (including collected about us unknowingly) over a lifetime, what would it amount to?

Research conducted in 2016 by Northeastern University, estimated that 1.7 MB of data is created every second per person. This would equate to 146880 MB per day! Over a lifetime… I dare not calculate. It is these digital exhaust fumes we all produce that will remain long after we're gone.

The biggest chunk of this is taken up through the use of social media, sucking up artefacts about us like a vacuum. To put this into some perspective, social media collects so much data, they can’t remember all the ways they surveil us.

It’s crazy to think the amount of data we’re openly willing to share to the likes of Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. I sometimes think about what my next generation will think when it is my turn to move on to the "next life" and see the things I've posted (or lack of!) on these platforms. Will this be considered a correct representation of me as a person?

Death and Ownership of Data

What happens to all this data after death? - This very important point was brought up in the episode.

Thankfully, not all is doom and gloom when it comes to having control of a deceased online profile. The majority of online platforms allow the profile to be removed or memorialised with the consent of an immediate family member. For this to be actioned, a death certificate of the deceased and proof you are the next of kin will need to be provided.

Unfortunately, this will not always be the status quo. There will always be a question on just how many people are aware this is an option and can carry this out as a task. Regardless of whether a profile is claimed or not, there will be on a daily basis an accumulation of deceased profiles.

Social media platforms are getting wise to this impending scenario, especially when you have the likes of Facebook and their future battle with the dead. According to academics from the University of Oxford, within the next 50 years, the dead could outnumber the living. Other online platforms could find themselves in a similar fate.

They will need a strategy in place to make their online presence financially viable to investors for when the ad revenue dries up and will have to be creative in how this data can be of use.

In the episode, it highlighted your data will most likely belong to the social media platform to do with as they please for their monetary gain. For example, in the future, the avatar of a deceased member of your family could be used to advertise a product that in real life would never support. - Something you could only imagine from the writers of Black Mirror.

What about self-managed data like a personal website, photos and files stored on a computer or NAS? Unfortunately, this is where things get a little tricky as someone technical will have to be entrusted to keep things going. This has put into question all my efforts to create a time capsule storing all important photos of family past and present, painstakingly organised securely within my NAS. What will become of this?


I feel this post doesn’t lead to any conclusion and probably raised more questions than answers - thoughts on a subject that creates a great impression on me.

It's an irrefutable fact that technology is changing the way we die, and for the living, changing the way they deal with death. Future generations will find it easier and more accessible than ever to know who their ancestors were - if they felt inclined to find out.

Could it be considered narcissistic to invest so much effort in ensuring our digital footprint is handled in the manner we would like the next generation to see after we die? A form of digital immortality. Depends on the length you want to go to ensure how you're remembered.

I end this post paraphrasing an apt quote from Professor Charles Isbell (featured in the episode):

If you perceive immortality as nothing more than your great-great-grandchildren knowing your name, the type of person you were and the values you held, this is all anyone could ever ask for.

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