Emailing Beyond the Grave

medium_15612803237I'm a big fan of David Eagleman, author, neuroscientist, and fellow Rice grad (peck 'em Owls!). His book Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives is one of the most imaginative, dare I say spirit-filled books I've read in recent years. And he's a mainstay on Radiolab. Eagleman has a startup venture (a few years old by now) called Deathswitch, which lets people schedule various technological actions that occur in the event of their deaths. You set the system to contact you every so often and ask for a password in reply. If you do not answer, the system assumes you have died, which triggers whatever actions you designate---sending password and bank information to your executor, say, or emailing crucial files to co-workers. But the beauty of the system is, you can set any action or message you want. So you can write a note to your spouse that gets sent on your 50th anniversary, for example---or get the last word in an argument. (Or both: Happy anniversary, my darling. You'll always be my lobster. And we WERE on a break.)

One of my favorite chapters in this tech book I'm writing (Lord will it ever get done?) is the one on death, and how technology impacts the way we grieve. I find the idea of a deathswitch fascinating. And Eagleman's jovial optimism is appealing: he "likes to imagine the many sensational messages, waiting to be delivered: unexpected declarations of love, confessions of secrets or crimes, or the location of buried cash."

It also raises some compelling questions. What would it be like to receive love notes from a long-deceased spouse who remains frozen in time, as the recipient ages and changes? Would these messages become a burden? If this technology takes off and someone declines to participate, will the absence of a message at key moments cause further sadness? How does a continued "relationship" help or hinder the grieving process?

On a positive note, what a gift it would be to think about what you'd like to say to your children and loved ones in the future. You can do this "legacy" work regardless of technology, to be sure, and many people do... but knowing that these messages will be delivered (rather than forgotten in a desk drawer somewhere) gives the task an increased sense of purpose and urgency.

What do you think? Would you partake of this technology? What would your deathswitches be?

photo credit: StencilArchive.org via photopin cc