RIP: The Virtual Me

The Virtual You. An interesting concept. You die, and leave the bread crumbs of your life in so many places on the Internet….what will happen to those floating remnants of you, when you’re gone?

Your Virtual DNA in the Internet Cloud

I was desperately looking around for an online password earlier today…you know how that goes, you have some scheme whereby you cleverly document all of those pesky passwords, something accessible yet a bit out of the way so midnight ninjas won’t come in and steal them.

I have a folder in a file drawer (oops, now I’ll have to move it elsewhere I guess) that I use for mine. It started out as an organized list, with only a few entries…but fast became a folder full of little sticky notes that provided usernames and passwords to every imaginable site.

Signing up for an account always seems necessary at the time. “Sign up or we won’t help you”, basically…so I do. Today, I counted about 120 sites referenced in my folder. 120 sites that contain the “virtual me”. I don’t use most of them now, but my virtual DNA is still there, sitting in some company’s database up in the internet cloud…and one wonders what info is tagged to that “me” out there…birth-date, maybe a credit card number, some purchase preferences…oh, I shudder to think of it.

My secret file folder has gotten just a bit out of control, stickies on top of stickies. Some sites have cutesy passwords I set-up so I’ll more easily remember them. But many are too complicated to remember, as now the companies themselves let me know if my password is not “clever enough” to meet their security requirement…a little bar tells me that I need to insert something more challenging in my proposed password, to throw in some number, some symbol or to capitalize the 4th letter in. That’s good for security, but bad for my memory. Everything has to be written down…I worry that my passwords may fall into enemy hands.

Along with the passwords I started thinking about all of the instances of the “virtual me”, seemingly floating around in that internet cloud. Who is going to take care of erasing and tidying up all of those if I die tomorrow? Well, maybe that would be the least of my problems, but I have spent a lot of time uploading hundreds of photos and other important info, and I have a professional portfolio website for my writing…and no-one but me knows how to access those sites from an owner’s perspective. I wonder what  those website vendors even do. At what point would a site just get erased. Would there be a warning? Who would they warn? Another “virtual me” email address that no-one knows about or can’t access?

When my father-in-law died, my husband found his dad’s little “crib notes” with all of his passwords, all posted on a sticky: the online banking account info and password; the VISA card password; mortgage company username and password; the life insurance company email archive. He hadn’t tried to hide his crib notes; either…they were simply taped to his PC. At his age, he must have felt he needed them accessible nearby, more than a thief might want to steal them.

The Virtual You. An interesting concept. You die, and leave the bread crumbs of your life in so many places on the internet. And I wonder what the companies like Facebook and LinkedIn do, when a user dies. How would they even know? The deceased accounts probably live on forever…imagine that. All of their friends’ postings simply coming across on their wall each day. Kind of creepy.

Today, while all of this was swirling around in my head…I thought I might take some time and organize the Virtual me a bit, just in case. At least write the usernames and passwords down that I currently don’t have documented on stickies…those are, after all, the ones I use everyday, so theoretically, they must be the most important and relevant to me. And maybe I should make a note which ones are set-up for automatic payments. That might be helpful to my husband. Oh, and a list of all of the “stuff” I wouldn’t want erased after I’m gone…oh, my…what a project…I think I’ll just have to ignore it all again and hope for the best. There are worse things, I suppose, than floating around on the internet after you are gone. For instance, there is that YouTube video of you dancing at that wild party….

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