The online afterlife: Updates from beyond the grave

When Jerald Spangenberg collapsed and died in the middle of a quest in an online game, his daughter embarked on a quest of her own: to let her father's gaming friends know that he hadn't just decided to desert them.





It wasn't easy, because she didn't have her father's World of Warcraft password and the game's publisher couldn't help her. Eventually, Melissa Allen Spangenberg reached her father's friends by asking around online for the "guild" he belonged to.



One of them, Chuck Pagoria in Morgantown, Kentucky, heard about Spangenberg's death three weeks later. Pagoria had put his absence down to an argument among the gamers that night.



"I figured he probably just needed some time to cool off," Pagoria said. "I was kind of extremely shocked and blown away when I heard the reason that he hadn't been back. Nobody had any way of finding this out."



With online social networks becoming ever more important in our lives, they're also becoming an important element in our deaths.

Spangenberg, who died suddenly from an abdominal aneurysm at 57, was unprepared, but others are leaving detailed instructions. There's even a tiny industry that has sprung up to help people wrap up their online contacts after their deaths.



When Robert Bryant's father died last year, he left his son a little black USB flash drive in a drawer in his home office in Lawton, Oklahoma. It was underneath a cup his son had once given him for his birthday. The drive contained a list of contacts for his son to notify, including the administrator of an online group he had been in.



"It was kind of creepy because I was telling all these people that my dad was dead," Bryant said. "It did help me out quite a bit, though, because it allowed me to clear up a lot of that stuff and I had time to help my mom with whatever she needed."



David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has had plenty of time to think about the issue.



"I work in the world's largest medical centre, and what you see here every day is people showing up in ambulances who didn't expect that just five minutes earlier," he said. "If you suddenly die or go into a coma, there can be a lot of things that are only in your head in terms of where things are stored, where your passwords are."



He set up a site called Deathswitch, where people can set up emails that will be sent out automatically if they don't check in at intervals they specify, like once a week. For US$20 per year, members can create up to 30 emails with attachments like video files.



It's not really a profit-making venture, and Eagleman isn't sure about how many members it has - "probably close to a thousand." Nor does he know what's in the emails that have been created. Until they're sent out, they're encrypted so that only their creators can read them.



If Deathswitch sounds morbid, there's an alternative site: Slightly Morbid. It also sends email when a member dies, but doesn't rely on them logging in periodically while they're alive.



Instead, members have to give trusted friends or family the information needed to log in to the site and start the notification process if something should happen.



The site was created by Mike and Pamela Potter in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They also run a business that makes software for online games. Pamela said they realised the need for a service like this when one of their online friends, who had volunteered a lot of time helping their customers on a web message board, suddenly disappeared.



He wasn't dead: Three months later, he came back from his summer vacation, which he'd spent without internet access. By then, the Potters had already had Slightlymorbid.com up and running for two weeks.



A third site with a similar concept plans to launch in April. Legacy Locker will charge US$30 per year. It will require a copy of a death certificate before releasing information.



Peter Vogel, in Tampa, Fla., was never able to reach all of his stepson Nathan's online friends after the boy died last year at age 13 during an epileptic seizure.



A few years earlier, someone had hacked into one of the boy's accounts, so Vogel, a computer administrator, taught Nathan to choose passwords that couldn't be easily guessed. He also taught the boy not to write passwords down, so Nathan left no trail to follow.



Vogel himself has a trusted friend who knows all his important login information. As he points out, having access to a person's email account is the most important thing, because many website passwords can be retrieved through email.



Vogel joked that he hoped the only reason his friend would be called on to use his access within "the next hundred years or so" would be if Vogel forgets his own passwords.



But, he said, "as Nathan has proven, anything can happen any time, even if you're only 13."





Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

    £25000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

    Recruitment Genius: HTML5 Games Developer

    £34000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Engineer

    £20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for an excellent opport...

    Recruitment Genius: Field Service Engineer - Basingstoke / Reading Area

    £16000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established name in IT Ser...

    Day In a Page

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue