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
I see the role of a digital executor as someone who becomes the caretaker of your digital life. According to your instructions, or your digital will, the designated person would perform account management for you. There are many functions you may want them to perform. For example, you may want them to:
- close certain social network accounts
- upload a prepared final blog post
- change your avatars
- ensure your heirs get your affiliate income
- archive your photos, videos, blog posts and other content
- notify your online friends that you’ve passed
- ensure that your web hosting is paid
- delete files from your computer
There’s a myriad of digital information that may need attention, both online and on your computer’s hard drive. So take some time to think about what is important to you and what you’d like preserved and archived for your work, your friends and your family.
CHOOSING A DIGITAL EXECUTOR
You may have one person that you trust to enact your wishes and take over management of all your digital affairs. However, perhaps it makes more sense to choose several people to perform different functions. If you have a small business, your web site, blog, affiliate accounts and Google AdSense account may best be managed by someone in your company who can see out your wishes. For Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and email accounts that are mainly for personal use, you may want to designate a family member or close friend. If you want certain files on your computer to be saved, forwarded, or in some cases deleted, you will need someone who is local to where you live or work and would be able gain physical access to it.
Whomever you choose, they should have the knowledge and ability to do what you ask of them in your final instructions. It would be best to choose a person who’s already familiar with the online world and has a modicum of technical savvy. Be conscious that some people who are very close to you may not have the emotional capacity shortly after your death to cope with notifying and fielding questions from your social networks or dealing with your personal email.
What would functions would you want a digital executor to perform? What kind of person would you choose for that role? Would you have more than one? Let me know in the comments.
Yesterday The New York Times ran the interview I did about The Digital Afterlife and the need to appoint a digital executor:
Internet Protocol is Jenna Wortham’s advice column for technology. The question was:
Not to be morbid, but I have a lot of private information and details stored on my computer — in various Google Chat logs, e-mail and social networking accounts — that I wouldn’t want to be revealed when I log off for good. Who should I consult or what do I need to do to ensure my cache is cleared and e-mail and social networking sites accounts are deleted when I die?
This person wants to keep private things quiet. Perhaps they have another online persona or have made some online indiscretions or simply don’t want their family to know about certain dealings?
Things become much more complicated in attempting to keep this secret after they pass. Although there are automated services to notify your friends on social networks or selected individuals of your passing, in the case above, you’d still have to rely on someone to access your computer if you want your cache or sensitive files deleted. Yes, you’d need the digital equivalent of a “porn buddy” to wipe your computer clean of sensitive information, from financial information to, well, porn.
You can read my advice on appointing a digital executor here. What would you advise?
Have you appointed a digital executor to keep your online digital legacy alive? What about someone to delete private information from your computer or from online? Have you thought about it at all?
Let me know what you think.