Welcome English Grad Students!

I’ve been told recently that my URL has been given to another of Dr. Sexson’s classes as an example of a blog or online journal, so I’ll take this opportunity to officially welcome you all to the blogosphere. I’ve already linked to all of your blogs (the ones I could find at least) and look forward to browsing them from time to time, perhaps even commenting–as I hope you’ll do here when you feel like it. Enjoy!

E-mail After Death

A conversation yesterday got me thinking about what happens to our online presence after we die. I thought it might make a good article for the newspaper, or perhaps for something larger; but in researching the idea, I found that someone else already had that idea.

The Baltimore City Paper published “Ghosts in the Machines” in June 2004. The article follows the story of Aaron Huth, a 20-year-old who died in 2003. Ruth was a musician and avid Web user, and he left an immense online presence to be dealt with after his death. This included closing accounts, managing social networking profiles, and even dealing with the deceased e-mail.

A year later, friends and family still hadn’t been able to finish the job, partly because they didn’t know how far his digital identity extended and partially because they just didn’t want to erase every last bit of Ruth’s life.

This makes me think about my own online presence. At last count, I used four e-mail addresses actively–with probably another 15 registered addresses. I have Web hosting that draws from my bank account. I have a World of Warcraft subscription. I have MySpace and Facebook profiles. I have Technorati and Blogger sites. I have memberships at more sites than I can remember.

Who would delete them if I died? Should they be deleted, or should certain pages on the Web remain forever as tributes or memorials to the dead? If, as Newsweek proclaimed last year, the Web is where we live, how will we handle death on the Web?

More importantly, or at least practically, is this something we need to worry about? I would argue that, increasingly, dealing with your digital presence will become a bigger part of end-of-life planning, included along with buying a coffin or arranging your own cremation. As the first generation born and raised with the Web grows older, those still technologically literate at the end of their lives will probably feel an obligation to settle their accounts.

Will it be like no longer going to coffee in the mornings at a neighborhood shop? Will others understand that you’ve excused yourself in preparation for the end of your life?

Interesting questions, brought to you by Web 2.0…

WikiCourt

According to the New York Times, more than 100 court rulings in the past two years have relied on the Wikipedia, including 13 from the tier of courts just below the Supreme Court. Though most in the legal profession are not yet willing to rely on the site, some judges cite the encyclopedia in footnotes, “to show how hip and contemporary the judge is.”

Many scholars agree that it is safe to use the Wikipedia for facts that aren’t essential to the facts of a case. But for crucial facts, the dynamic nature of the site is too unstable to rely on. Since anyone can edit the Wikipedia at any time, it would be possible to influence cases by changing encyclopedia articles.

State of the Union

The New York Times has published a little flash tool that lets you analyze the current president’s State of the Union addresses, which so far amount to more than 30,000 words. You can search the text of the speeches to see how often certain words have appeared. Kind of a neat tool that might be useful to linguists tempted to decry the vocabulary weaknesses of the Commander in Chief.

HUMINT

According to my spy novels, the title of this post is short for “human intelligence.” Fitting, because I learned today that the Central Intelligence Agency has a Facebook page, the National Clandestine Service.

Now, an article on Ars Technica discusses the ways a social networking site like Facebook could be used by spy agencies to study social interactions and patterns, perhaps in the fight against global terrorism.

However, the article also reports on the conspiracy theories surrounding Facebook’s CIA connection. Some apparently believe that Facebook is a government-run project to collect personal data on American citizens and to track our friends and relationships.

Is Facebook a front for a government spy program? Probably not, but those spooks are pretty sneaky. Still, would it stop people from going to the sites if they were owned by the government? Or would another site just pop up to replace Facebook with the guarantee that it was “non-spy”?

Maybe the lesson to take from this is that if you provide people with a forum where it is easy to share their personal information, they will do it. And once they’ve gotten a taste of sharing like that, they are likely to keep doing it even after the particular site folds.

Related: Wikispy

The Human Network?

More evidence of Web 2.0’s marketing potential: I saw a commercial for Cisco Systems tonight touting the potential for anyone to be famous on the “human network.” The commercial features a young man dancing in a kitchen, being filmed by what we assume is his father on a camera phone. As the commercial proceeds, video of the boy finds its way onto media outlets around the world, all thanks to the interlinked, internetworked Internet, presumably running on Cisco software.