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Midday Matinee – The Afterlife of Data

January 28, 2013

Midday Matinee

Midday Matinee – The Afterlife of Data

We all die. Why would we be surprised that our data also ‘dies’? I have found myself contemplating the afterlife of data. Is there one? (More)

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A brilliantly worded comment disappears. A carefully researched link-laden blog post vanishes. An email that makes you giggle at your own cleverness goes poof before you hit send. When your cell phone dies your contact list also dies. The fact is that, in our technologically hyper-linked world, data dies. The real question is does data have an afterlife, a binary heaven or hell.

Most religions have some concept of an afterlife. Some believe we keep coming back to earth until we evolve enough to achieve cosmic consciousness. Others see the afterlife as reward or punishment for the lives we have lead here on earth. Most concepts of an afterlife involve some version of eternity. “For all eternity” is silly phrase. If it were partial eternity it wouldn’t be forever, would it? Going with the generic idea of life after death being one whale of a long time, one wonders how that ‘time’ would be spent.

I have big plans. I am hoping that all the data that I have lost will be available for my perusal. Data heaven so to speak. Would that elegant blog post have changed the world? Is it, was it, as magnificent as I imagined right before it disappeared? It would amuse me to read it again. I’m not sure I’d be as amused by the Excel budget spread sheets that died. Weeks of work representing way too many meetings died with them. Had I sandbagged enough to make smart compromises? Maybe I could spend some of eternity pondering that very question. I can’t remember all the email addresses I have had, let alone the passwords. I wonder if I have unread emails in the afterlife? And what about all the digital photos that were sent but not received as I was learning the various photo management programs. Seeing the photos might be more fun that rereading old budgets. I hope the data stream to the afterlife is continuous. Then I could watch my children and grandchildren grow old from some other place.

The afterlife of data raises the specter of data privacy and transparency. I wonder if it will still be “my data” or just a big unsorted mess? I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg or Al Franken have thought through this?

I find this whole idea much more fun than how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or whether the heavenly chorus only admits voices who come with perfect pitch.

  • winterbanyan

    A very funny piece, addisnana. You had me laughing out loud. Sometimes I assure myself that losing that data was a good thing in the big scheme of things. But the time I had to rewrite 7 chapters of a book… not so much.

    Or yesterday when my printer ate the IRS receipt and I didn’t realize it until I’d moved away from that page. All I had were a pile of unreadable symbols.

    I’m not sure I’d want to see those 7 chapters again, and certainly nothing from the IRS. But other stuff… ah, it might be so funny.

    As this certainly was. Thanks!

    • addisnana

      But, but, but…those chapters might have been absolutely wonderful. 🙂 Glad you were entertained.

  • NCrissieB

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article, addisnana. The problem is that pretty much any data that gets born stays alive Somewhere In The Cloud. For example, Scott Brown deleted his “Bqhatevwr” tweet, but it had already been screen-captured for posterity. In terms of the life of data, this is an excellent argument for selective abortion … otherwise known as self-editing.

    I wonder if our cosmic relationship to data will be like that predicted by George Carlin. He predicted that, when you die and get to heaven, you’ll find all of the stuff you lost here on earth: pens, socks, dryer sheets, even wallets. “But the money won’t be in them,” he noted. “Same as here.” 😉

    • addisnana

      Think of the cost and energy required to maintain the cloud. Wow.

      I wonder if the lost socks in the afterlife will all be paired?