Recently, Google announced a new feature called “Inactive Account Manager” that has been nicknamed the Google Death Manager by many as it deals with what happens to your account if it is left inactive for a pre-determined amount of time.
At first thought, this feature does seem sort of strange. But as the Internet grows and ages, more of these types of features will probably appear. In the early days, the Internet was viewed more like a library. One surfed around the web learning about whatever one could find. Today, the Internet is more about two-way communication. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Gmail, and other tools contain a ton of recorded personalized communication that the average person would never have had if the Internet didn’t exist.
I originally half-scoffed at the idea of an Inactive Account Manager. Who cares about the data once you are gone? In the end, once I am gone, all that data certainly isn’t doing me any good, so why should I care?
Then a couple weeks ago my stupid, selfish little brain realized it’s not about me, but everyone else.
It took a personal wake-up call to fully understand. In my spare time, I run a little fan-oriented Hardy Boys website that has a forum (i.e., message board, bulletin board—those things people used before WordPress and Facebook became popular). One of the members of the forum who had several hundred posts died. It dawned on me that I now have a digital footprint of this person who can no longer add or change what is on my website. This account is sort of frozen in time.
As a whole new generation of Internet users grows older and begins to pass away, we will start to have huge chunks of the Internet filled with data that becomes “frozen in time”. For most of the data, this is not an issue. But unlike most printed materials of the past, a portion of the personalized data on the Internet was meant to be updated on a regular basis. That isn’t going to happen if you are six feet under the server that contains the information that needs updated.
Thus, we get Google’s Inactive Account Manager.
But you can’t (and I suggest you probably don’t want to) just delete your entire digital existence. Just because we now have a digital footprint of our lives, and in some cases can now delete part of this footprint, doesn’t change the fact that other people will remember or talk about us once we are gone.
I could go back and delete all the posts and information by the member on the forum of my Hardy Boys web site, but why? That content has touched a lot of people and it has the potential to touch a lot more people going forward. Sure, the account itself may not be used anymore and we can always take actions to help facilitate the proper future of such accounts, but the content created by that person is for everyone’s enjoyment and use. If they didn’t want it to touch others, they wouldn’t have put it there in the first place.
The bigger lesson here though is not about a new feature by Google and how best to use it, but rather, next time you find yourself surfing the web and adding some of your own thoughts and content to the Internet, think twice and ask yourself if this will help others in the future. It’s the same question we ask when we create a new website and are deciding what content should go on the site. We just need to apply it to our own lives as we ride another wave into the ocean of social media and the World Wide Web.
Are you creating a proper memorial that others can look to after you are gone, or are you just leaving a worn-out tombstone in the growing graveyard of dead web surfers?