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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Button-Down Mode

There's an interesting read in the Times today about what becomes of our online lives once we log off this mortal coil.

It's an interesting topic and I recommend you read it if you have any sort of presence online. It talks about how our blog posts, tweets and Facebook stuff outlive us and, in some cases, may come to define us far beyond any of our more concrete contributions to the world, or earthly property we may leave behind.

The article got me thinking about a blogger acquaintance of mine who has been playing a game of cyber-chicken with fate for the past few years.

In a late night chat session about five years ago, this person revealed to me a deep-seated fear that death would arrive as a premature surprise (e.g. heart attack, stroke, car wreck), rather than an organized old-age deathbed event, surrounded by loved ones and complete with well considered last words to everyone.

As a result, this person had written a long blog post which begins with the words "If you are reading this, I am dead...", containing all the thoughts, hopes, wisdom and wishes he (or she) wanted to ensure were passed on to both real life, and cyber, next of kin.

The post contains things as mundane as when certain bills are due each month and where to find the list of bank passwords and life insurance polices... to things as complex as declarations of enduring love and confessions of occasional infidelity.

This person's 'last blog & testament post' (so to speak) has been updated and revised countless times over the years... but has been held in abeyance using a technique called 'button down mode', which is more often associated with terrorists and spies than with garden variety suburban bloggers.

The best way to describe 'butten-down mode' is to picture a hand-grenade whose pin has been pulled, held tightly in the hand of a terrorist who keeps it from exploding by maintaining pressure on the 'spoon/lever'. So long as the person holding the grenade is close enough to hostages that the exploding grenade would also kill them, he is fairly invulnerable to attack. No sniper can risk shooting him because the moment he expires, the now-dead hand will release the pressure on the 'spoon/lever'... resulting in all those around him being sprayed with deadly shrapnel from the exploding grenade.

[we'll ignore the wrinkle that there is a short delay once the fuse in a typical grenade is triggered which would allow most able bodied people who weren't actually handcuffed to such a terrorist, to seek cover before it exploded]

In the terror/intelligence context (which I am only familiar with via fiction), explosive information (rather than ordnance) is given to an unknown third party with instructions to release it to the media or an interested party if a certain signal is not received at a predetermined interval (which would indicate that something bad had happened to the spy/terrorist since they were unable to transmit the agreed-upon signal).

This is where that game of cyber-chicken I mentioned comes into play.

What this blogger friend of mine has done is to save this pre/post-mortem blog post within his/her online blogging application, with a 'publish on...' date of midnight on the first day of the following month.

Keep in mind, this person is as busy and distracted as any of us. Family, work, illness, travel, vacations, etc. all conspire to distract him/her from rescheduling the publication of this ever-looming post. And yet, for several years now, on or about the last day of each month, this person has managed to remember to go online and delay the publication date by four or five more weeks.

I asked the person, "What would happen if you were stuck in an airport somewhere at the end of a month with no access to the Internet? What if there was a regional electrical black-out... or you just plain forgot? Can you imagine the shock your family will get when they check your site and see a post beginning with "If you are reading this, I am dead..."?

I've asked this question of my blogger friend (who I have never met in person, BTW) no less than ten times over the past few years. And I always get the same response: "You're right... I know I'm taking a big risk. But if I leave a letter in a safe deposit box or with a lawyer, there is a bigger risk that something will go wrong, or that some of the people I want to read my dying thoughts will not be contacted".

I suppose some people trust nobody but themselves... which has probably resulted in a lot of secrets (good and bad) being taken to the grave. But at the start of each month when I check this person's blog... I cringe a little bit, wondering if the button has inadvertently been released prematurely.

Note to my wife and family: If you have any questions about my thoughts or feelings (or about bank passwords, life insurance policies or when the bills are due)... ask me now. Once I'm gone, the only thing you'll see here on my site is the previous morning's brain fart.

Posted by David Bogner on January 6, 2011 | Permalink

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I assume your blogger friend has something a little more serious than this:

http://www.somethingawful.com/d/news/you-reading-this.php

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jan 6, 2011 2:06:53 PM

Wasn't this a Law and Order episode - someone admitting to a murder (he hoped post-mortem) and was released prematurely do to the responsible server person getting killed himself..

Posted by: Aharon | Jan 6, 2011 4:51:05 PM

If you have wisdom - why would you hold onto it until after you are dead.
As for 'confessions' they should either be aired - or taken to the grave.

It seems the real problem for this fellow is - that he has 'dying thoughts' (while he is alive and healthy no less!).
When you've had the opportunity to take the journey with someone from life to death you learn some very important things. One of them is - do not have 'dying thoughts'. Share now. Or don't bother.

For the mundane stuff - jot it down in a notebook.
My mom did this and it worked swimmingly.
There were no confessions of love or secrets in this book. Just facts, and ideas on how to proceed with taking care of her unfinished business.
There was the occasional one line treasures such as "I want Nancy to have the little white lamp in the spare room."
The book was usually found near her chair for easy updating, and she told us years and years ago - just find the gray notebook.

If the book ever fell into the 'wrong hands' well then - not sure who would get the lamp in the spare room.

Posted by: weese | Jan 6, 2011 7:41:38 PM

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