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Death and UX: Digital Afterlife and Digital Legacy

Par Agnieszka Maria Walorska

Conférence (50 mn) :
Langue :

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Le sujet

Approximately 1/3 of all Facebook-Accounts already belongs to deceased users and the numbers are rising. About 10.000 Facebook users die every day. And Facebook, of course, is not the only one relevant platform. Death has long since arrived online - but how should we handle it? What happens with the digital legacy of a user? Does the digital death always follow the physical death?

Numerous providers try to find a solution for this problem - and they fail. Why is it so? Which challenges are posed by the uncomfortable topic “death” to the entire user experience of the product (from user guidance over visual design to content strategy)? What can we do to overcome them? There are many open questions regarding this topic. In my talk I'll try to provide answers to at least some of them.

Probably all of us have already confronted the topic of death on the Internet. After the death of a loved one we look up online what we should do in such a situation. Condolences are often expressed online (especially it the deceased is a distant acquaintance), and posted in social media. These are all interesting aspects of the digital death, which I’ll consider in my speech. But what I find particularly interesting, is a different dimension of the digital afterlife. A dimension that affects a growing proportion of the society, but is consciously perceived by the least. An issue that affects everyone who uses online services and enters personal information there. What happens to this information after we die? Is the physical death necessarily followed by the digital death?

I could say – “I don’t care what happens to my digital accounts after I die, I’m dead anyway”. But it’s not that easy. What would happen if I would die tomorrow? As I’m not married, my parents would be the ones, who have to deal with it. And they are definitely not “digital natives”. They wouldn’t have an idea which services I was using and how to deal with them after I die. They wouldn’t know what would me my preferences: do I want everything to disappear? Would I prefer a “memorial profile” (which is for example possible on Facebook)? Or maybe I would just like to stay as it is? If I don’t want my parents to have one more thing to deal with (as if the death of their child wasn’t enough) – maybe I should take care of it while still alive?

But how? There are already different services trying to help users managing their digital afterlife. But they struggle. Why? - People just don’t want to deal with their own death – especially while being young and healthy; - It’s difficult to get user feedback (for example conduct user tests) in the context of death; - It’s difficult to verify the death of the user – in a way which is both user-friendly and highly secure; - There are no universal standards and regulations: neither for reporting the death of the user nor for creating a last will for digital data.

In my talk I will address these and others questions and constraints and provide answers and recommendations: based on research and the learning from the digital afterlife project I’m currently working on.

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