Digital ownership across multiple lifespans
(University of Dundee)
Paper short abstract:
As technology adoption increases across the lifespan, the question of what happens to the resulting digital content at the end of life is increasingly topical. This paper draws explores issues surrounding ownership of digital content across multiple lifespans, and the ways in which digital content lives on after its creator dies.
Paper long abstract:
This paper draws on a combination of field studies and systematic review to explore issues surrounding ownership of digital content across multiple lifespans, and the ways in which digital content lives on after its creator dies. As technology adoption continues to increase across the lifespan, we embrace opportunities to create and share digital content with personal significance: photos, emails, blogs, videos and more. This content is superseding the boxes of memory-laden letters and photos previously stored in our homes. Digital content has the advantage that it can be created, accessed and shared anywhere, at any time. However, it cannot easily be inherited when its creator dies - especially if stored in online accounts. Facilities for users to nominate an inheritor for their digital content are largely absent, and (with few exceptions) lack support in law. Inheritors struggle to identify and access online accounts and their content, a problem compounded when Internet Service Providers' conditions of use stipulate that accounts terminate on death. Processes of bequest and inheritance are further clouded by the asynchronous nature of virtual and physical death. Users may linger on in a virtual world long after physical death. If inheritors do gain access to digital content, they are repurposing it. Digital content may be used to evoke the life of the deceased, providing opportunities for shared grieving and the maintenance of continuing bonds with the dead.
Ageing and the digital life course (IUAES Commission on Ageing and the Aged)