Derek K. Miller
June 30, 1969 – May 3, 2011
Derek K. Miller was an incredible man. He blogged his way through stage 4 metastic colorectal cancer. He coined the term “digital executor” in 2008. He was a father, husband, musician, podcaster, photographer, writer and inquisitive soul.
He blogged for more than 10 years, leaving behind a gift for us all. His children, Lauren (11) and Marina (13), will have an archive of their father’s insights and feelings about the world as a treasured part of their family history.
Derek’s father, Karl, was quoted today in the Vancouver Province newspaper, “He was proud of his blog, and now it is his legacy. It connects him to the world, and to his family, forever. We were there for him, but Derek was comfortable sharing his thoughts with a worldwide community.”
For everyone, but particularly those who are facing death as a result of cancer or other means, his blog shows how he extracted every last drop of joy that he could out of his life before the end. From his final post:
The world, indeed the whole universe, is a beautiful, astonishing, wondrous place. There is always more to find out. I don’t look back and regret anything, and I hope my family can find a way to do the same.
My Interview with Derek K. Miller
I had the great fortune of having a long conversation with Derek about digital legacy, digital identity and technology on May 28, 2010. Despite our intentions at the time, it would be our one and only discussion. He wrote a blog post about our “gabfest” then, which included his thoughts on preparing a digital legacy. I recorded our talk, with his permission, as an alternative to note-taking. When I wrote my post at the time, I promised to write more about the discussion we had. As sometimes happens in life, I didn’t get back to that plan.
As a tribute to Derek and his contribution to the topic of digital legacy and digital executorship, I’ve decided to post the entire unedited conversation here – late beginning, sketchy audio in places, and free-flowing. It’s clear from listening to it again how thoughtful and passionate Derek K. Miller was about technology and the effects that it has on our lives.
I’m feeling a loss today, but am grateful that he did so much to preserve his digital self for all of us to discover and learn from.
Tomorrow is Digital Death Day in Mountain View, CA. In our interview, we discussed last year’s event and I hope that Derek’s contributions to our burgeoning field are remembered there tomorrow.
My condolences to his wife Airdrie, Marina, Lauren and the rest of his family and loved ones.
Thanks to Dave Delaney who, while mourning the loss of his friend, volunteered to help me get this audio online.
CBC Radio “On the Coast” interview, rebroadcast May 4, 2011
CBC Radio “Spark” on Derek K. Miller, May 5, 2011
Vancouver Sun “A Death Foretold“, May 5, 2011
About 18 months ago, just as I was making it known that I was researching digital legacy issues, several friends told me about Derek K. Miller and that I needed to have a conversation with him. Well today, that finally happened.
Derek lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and is as close to a digital native as a (soon-to-be) 40-year-old could possibly be. He told me stories of dialing into mainframes in the ‘83, and of being active on BBS and other early web-sharing activities. Derek has had a web site for more than 20 years and has been blogging for 10 years. He’s also a writer, editor, musician, photographer, podcaster, husband, father and tech guy. And he’s fighting stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer, which is one reason why he has given much thought and consideration to the idea of digital legacy over the last few years.
To best estimates, Derek is the first person on record to use the term “digital executor.”
Way back on April 30, 2008, Derek appeared on a CBC radio show called “Spark” hosted by Nora Young. (Listen to the 20 minute interview.) On it, he talked about having such a vast amount of content online and the need for people to have a digital executor to carry out your wishes after you’ve passed away. Back then, he discussed many of the same concepts and concerns that I’ve been exploring.
I read in the Spark blog comments that host Nora Young stated,
I can imagine a whole new category of ‘personal digital archivists’.
It is also at that same time that I had a seminal discussion about this topic with a group of developers and techno-early-adopters about what happens to your online communities and digital footprint when you die. It was that discussion that inspired me to dig deeper, and which has led me to research, write and speak about digital legacy issues.
Fast forward two years, and after my presentation at webcom, a discussion sprang up on Twitter and Derek’s name was raised as being the person who coined the term “digital executor.” Within a short time, Derek and I had made arrangements to have Skype chat and it was a thrill to finally speak with him today . (I promise to blog more about that chat another time but you can read about some of it in Derek’s post.)
Dave or Derek?
Derek echoed what he had said 2 years previous, that Dave Winer (the creator of RSS and pioneer in blogging and CMS technology) was early out of the gate writing about the longevity of his digital content in March of 2007, one whole year before the Spark interview.
I realized that if I were to die now, my web presence might last a month or two, but probably not much longer. … If I want these things to last, I realized, I would have to invest to future-proof the content, as best as I can.
Despite Dave Winer’s advanced thinking on the preservation of content, he did not once use the term”digital executor.” So, unless someone can prove to me otherwise, I’m going to credit Derek K. Miller with being the first to use the term “digital executor.”
What a privilege it was to get Derek’s perspective on digital legacy issues. I look forward to our next conversation.