How To Blog—Codicil: What Happens to Your Blog When You’re Dead?

I’ve got to admit that having the Virus that Will Not Die has been taking my thoughts to morbid places. And I think a lot of us may have been dealing with dark thoughts as our emotions process recent disasters—especially the senseless tragedy in Tucson.

I notice the first thing we do when somebody commits mass murder these days is look at his social network sites. With good reason—the murderers usually have posted something suitably creepy to feed the media’s curiosity.

But what if you did NOT get up this morning planning to make yourself famous by doing something so despicable that people couldn’t ignore you any more? What if you’re one of the victims? Or you get hit by a random truck?

Or what if, at the age of 34, you go to sleep and have a heart attack and don’t wake up, like blogger Mac Tonnies did last year? What happens to your social network sites then?

And—what happens to your blog?

According to the New York Times, on October18, 2009, Mr. Tonnies updated his blog, went to bed and died of cardiac arrhythmia. His blog, Posthuman Blues, is still just as he left it. The thread of comments is heartbreaking—first expressions of annoyance from his regular followers about his lack of updates, then rumors, then the death announcement, then poignant memorials, then…spam.

Without his password, nobody can delete it, and his cyber remains may hang in limbo for years.

I’m not the first person who has worried about this. The subject of our cyber legacies is addressed by Evan Carroll and John Romano in their 2010 book, Your Digital Afterlife. They also have lots of valuable information at their site, the Digital Beyond. They have pressured networks like Facebook and Twitter to put mechanisms in place for heirs to present a memorial and/or delete an account by sending administrators a death certificate.

Adele McAlear is another blogger who focuses on the electronic remains the modern human leaves behind. On her blog, Death and Digital Legacy she notes over 200,000 Facebook members die every year and most survivors are unprepared to deal with contacting cyber-friends or deleting the account. She offers excellent tips on how heirs can deal with Facebook and Twitter, as well as Flickr and other photo-storing sites.

But I haven’t found anything that directly addresses the problem of blogs. So far, there’s no standardized system for dealing with our blogs once we’ve gone home to the Great Social Network in the Sky. That means that unless you’ve got a designated blog executor, your blog could hang forever in cyberspace, untended—attracting endless invitations to meet hot Russian women and enlarge your penis.

That’s why I’ve just asked a writer friend in my critique group to be my blog executor and care for this blog in case I’m suddenly done in by the Virus that Will Not Die, a surfeit of iceberg lettuce—or one of the random maniacs the US gun industry likes to keep armed to the teeth.

I’m suggesting that all bloggers do the same: designate a blog executor—right now.

Yes, now. While you’re thinking about it. Don’t just hope your Luddite parents or spouse will know what to do. Give your username and password to a trusted, blog-savvy friend who can post a death notice and leave it up long enough for followers to express their grief—and then take it down or tend to it regularly.

If you’re in the query process, it’s also a good idea to let your blog executor know where to find the list of your outstanding requested manuscripts and story submissions. A quick email to the agents or editors who are reading your material would not only be kind, but it might even make it possible for your story or book to be published posthumously. (If we can judge by Steig Larssen’s phenomenal success, being deceased might even be a good career move.)

Nobody likes to think about suddenly shuffling off one’s mortal coil, but it’s not a bad idea to have some plans in place. I figure it’s like carrying an umbrella. It always seems more likely to rain when I don’t have one.

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