Away from keys

DeathSeventhSeal.jpgAssociated Press technology writer Peter Svensson produced a wry, understated story on Sunday about two services that will tie up loose ends after their clients die. Svensson's angle makes sense, given his beat. He concentrates on the technological challenge of informing a person's online friends that they will hear nothing more from the deceased:

When Jerald Spangenberg collapsed and died in the middle of a quest in an online game, his daughter embarked on a quest of her own: to let her father's gaming friends know that he hadn't just decided to desert them.

It wasn't easy, because she didn't have her father's "World of Warcraft" password and the game's publisher couldn't help her. Eventually, Melissa Allen Spangenberg reached her father's friends by asking around online for the "guild" he belonged to.

The online services Deathswitch and Slightly Morbid tap into this market. Deathswitch is the brainchild of David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the (Southern Baptist) Baylor College of Medicine in Houston:

"I work in the world's largest medical center, and what you see here every day is people showing up in ambulances who didn't expect that just five minutes earlier," he said. "If you suddenly die or go into a coma, there can be a lot of things that are only in your head in terms of where things are stored, where your passwords are."

He set up a site called Deathswitch, where people can set up e-mails that will be sent out automatically if they don't check in at intervals they specify, like once a week. For $20 per year, members can create up to 30 e-mails with attachments like video files.

There must be a spiritual angle to this as well. What religion does not say something about what happens upon death? Sure enough, it doesn't take much poking around at Deathswitch to turn up this boilerplate farewell:

Dear Sarah,

It appears I have now passed from the living. Do you remember the encrypted CD that I gave to you in 2005? The password to open it is UW9JCV31. Please follow the instructions on it carefully. You know how strong my love was for you in my lifetime; it will be no less now, I imagine. And if I can find any way to communicate with you from where I am now, you know I will.

All my love for eternity,


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