The Ghost in the Machine - Digital Debris

I was browsing through some of my social networks earlier today when I was struck by how interconnected everything has truly become.More than just how interconnected, but how difficult it is to clear up the digital breadcrumbs of your life.
Written by BarryGill , member/vendor blogger (Mimecast)

I was browsing through some of my social networks earlier today when I was struck by how interconnected everything has truly become.

More than just how interconnected, but how difficult it is to clear up the digital breadcrumbs of your life.

In recent years I have been unfortunate enough to have lost a few friends, people that were near and dear to me whose time among us ended all too early. More than a year ago I thought about social networks in the context of crowdsourcing grief, but that was a look at a more emotional level than the Ghost in the Machine (no reference to Gilbert Ryle) I am writing about today.

As I browsed through one of the social networks I am on, I was presented with information about a deceased friend and I had a few moments of remembering them and what we did together. After that initial jolt, I started thinking about the digital identity we have all created and how that translates into real world physical events like death and moving (I know moving isn’t the same thing as dying but I still receive emails from a video store that is now some 8,084.9 miles [thanks Bing maps] away from my home).

It used to be fairly simple, when somebody died, to close off all of their affairs. A few signed pieces of paper, settle some debts with their estate and you’re done.

These days, a digital echo of our lives will continue on well beyond us, reminding those around us that we existed… that we were… about us. This happens to the degree that a whole segment of digital “life management” companies has been born. Companies that will look after logon details for all of your networks as part of your “estate” so that your family can close up your affairs in all aspects of your life. I am personally not sure I would want this because I like to leave musings on the walls of those that have passed, cementing my memories of good times with them, I don’t want those (selfishly perhaps) to be wiped clean.

I work for Mimecast, a cloud-based Unified Email Management company. One of the things we do is provide long term email archival. A conversation I have held frequently with customers and prospects over the years has centred on staff that leave, staff that “move on”.

I have always spoken about the less morbid aspect of daily life, people simply changing jobs, and the fact that organizations should worry about holding data for ex-employees after they have moved on for both compliance and knowledge management/continuity purposes.

In this regard, changing jobs leaves the same “digital debris” as a death.

In essence, what we are creating is a long tail or wake of digital remnants, reminders of our passing. This could be equated to a modern day haunting as echoes of your time as that entity remain and are periodically viewed by people who knew you and indeed by people who have never met you (and likely never will).

This digital wake creates multiple streams of hauntings. You could be haunting your ex-colleagues for several years; you could be haunting your bank for many years. You will be haunting official government registrars for perhaps hundreds of years. And all of that without any conscious effort to do so!

Imagine the ramifications of a concerted effort to create a digital ghost of yourself?

I mean a ghost, an imprint of your thoughts, a sign of your consciousness, not a reflection of your persona as seen by others. I am referring of course to the reflections we see around us all the time of public persona’s such as Marilyn Monroe (who I have a portrait of in my office) or James Dean (also in my office). They were people who have left reflections of themselves on the world in the form of movies, books, press reports and memories in many people’s collective consciousness. They did not, however, have the additional dimension that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and of course text messages, email and any of the IM’s…

That leads me to wonder about those celebrities or public figures that are prolific social networkers, people like Stephen Fry, Alyssa Milano or Neil Gaiman. These are people who have massive followings because of their celebrity. They have now got more than the press and the media with which they operate to leave a trace of themselves; they can leave their thoughts, their musings in a wide swath of detritus on the social network-o-sphere…

What about people with different forms of celebrity?

People like me? Someone who is well known in my spheres? I can (and will) leave ghosts of my thoughts and opinions to haunt the Interwebz for many years to come. While I may haunt fewer people, there is no doubt that my haunting will persist. That I will leave an imprint of more than just my images, but that I would leave an echo of my consciousness too.

So be sure to leave a ghost worth bumping into, you are never going to be able to clear off selective traces of your life…

And that is what I was thinking about.

As always, you can follow me on twitter at Barry_Gill or LinkedIn as Barry Gill.

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