Posts Tagged ‘second life’

What Happens to Our Online Lives After Death?

November 2, 2009

Death. Taxes. Button rollovers. There are few certainties. But those are three of them.

On Friday, I aimed for a fun blog post. Today’s Monday. As good a time as any for a morbid one. Despite its inevitability, death isn’t something online companies and users consider as fully as they should.

A reader recently wrote the blog The Consumerist complaining that she had been “asked twice this week to improve the Facebook existence of someone who passed away this summer, despite e-mailing them several times to alert them of this person’s untimely demise.”

The Consumerist notes that setting the deceased’s profile to memorial mode would prevent others from receiving such suggestions. But this option is available only to persons close to the deceased.

In other online spaces, the bereaved are fighting to access and preserve their loved ones’ online property, which, given how much of people’s lives play out online these days, can hold as much sentiment as material belongings.

An article in today’s New York Times detailed how Yahoo, citing terms of service privacy stipulations, prevented the family of a solider killed in Iraq from accessing his account.

The newspaper also interviewed a widow who lost the Second Life island she lived on with her husband — whom she met in the virtual world — after deciding she was unable to afford the maintenance fees.

As the line between people’s real world and online identities gets blurrier, it is the shared responsibility of users and companies to adopt procedures to avoid situations like these. Though no one likes to think about death, what happens to their online holdings after they pass is something users will have to confront. And as legally convenient as it is, it’s in poor taste for companies to hide behind their terms of service and deny the bereaved control of their loved ones’ spaces.

A technology law professor the Times quoted suggested users name a digital executor to receive their log-in information after they pass. But he cautioned that using this information without the service provider’s knowledge could be considered fraud. As the Times observes, this is a “murky legal realm.”


Don’t Blame the Media. Blame Yourself.

September 14, 2009

pointWhen the you know what hits the fan, somehow it’s always the media who threw it there.

School violence? Blame the media. Disputed election? Blame the media. Economic collapse? Blame the media. Natural disasters? Blame the media. OK, the last one’s from a 1999 Onion classic, but, you get the point. The media are the world’s go-to scapegoats.

Well, world, start looking for a new scapegoat. I don’t know, El Niño maybe?

Audiences’ power to choose and shape content is growing by the day. It’s reached the point where academics have begun looking for a new word to describe media consumers. “Audience” just seems way too passive. A few of my classmates offered “specticipants” as an alternative. There. It’s published now. We’ll see whether it catches on.

With great power, comic book fans, comes great responsibility. Interactive media give audiences a say in whether content promotes violence, treats candidates fairly or unmasks financial misbehavior. And to the extent they don’t, they enable audiences to call out publishers when content isn’t up to their standards.

The hyperlinked Web was built for media criticism. Sites like correct the record when media distort information or regurgitate the misinformation of others and have inspired news organizations to fold similar models into their own coverage.

To media critics of the armchair variety: you can’t have it both ways. Newspaper readers routinely flame a publication for running allegedly sensaltionst stories while clicking on them in droves. Taking a stand? Vote with your clicks, not just your comments. Click on content that upholds your ideals. Don’t click on content that doesn’t. Hop on Digg and thumbs up content you like. Thumbs down content you don’t.

Self-policing communities like Wikipedia and Second Life, although not perfect, embody the right spirit. There, if users don’t like what’s going on, they don’t assign blame, they fix it. So, all those complainers out there, get a fixin’.

Finding Real Meaning in Virtual Memorials

September 11, 2009

The terrorist attacks eight years ago today were an assault on “civilization and modernity itself,” diplomat Dennis Ross told the 9/11 Commission. What then would the attackers and their sympathizers think of virtual anniversary commemorations in the online role playing game Second Life?

Mirroring real life ceremonies, users in the popular multi-player environment honored the attacks’ 2,976 victims through prayer, candlelightings and memorials. Their activities even drew media coverage, from citizen journalists on CNN’s

I attempted to light a virtual candle. Being a n00b, I’m not sure whether I was successful. If you come across the message “Samuel Auggers has dedicated this candle to the victims of 9/11”, that was me. In a real life tie-in, candlelighters were given the opportunity to donate to Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit that assists the families of those killed in the attacks. As hard as I tried to get into it, I found the experience about as emotional as online shopping. For an injured firefighter too weak to join his peers at their real life ceremony, however, it could be extraordinarily powerful.

9/11 candle lighting in Second Life

That firefighter is probably the type of user organizers had in mind when they created the Second Life 9/11 Memorial Event. The event, complete with a 21-gun salute and bagpipers, is based on real life police and fire traditions. Only real life first responders or avatars with stellar reputations are allowed to be in the honor guard or assume other ceremonial positions.

Elsewhere, Second Life users have constructed an immaculate granite memorial, including photographs of many of the victims, where users can leave flowers.


Again, offering an outlet for those unable to attend real life events is the most obvious utility for these virtual commemorations. It’s easy to see other applications, however. While legal wrangling has delayed real life memorials in New York and Shanksville, Pa., their Second Life counterparts could already be receiving guests. Also, with virtual memorials, the potential for them to be targeted for a subsuquent attack — I’ll leave Second Life terrorism for another blog post — is less of a concern.