The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

We haven't even reached April yet, and already there have been a number of major natural disasters this year: the Australian, Brazilian, South African and Sri Lankan floods in January, the New Zealand earthquake (and reflooding in Sri Lanka) in February and the massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami of last week. Many of these disasters have struck "digital-intensive" societies, where the loss of digital assets has almost as great an impact on the speed of economic and emotional recovery as the replacement of brick and mortar assets.

It will take some time to see how exactly well business continuity plans fare in the wake of the Japanese disaster. Reports from papers like the Financial Times of London, for instance, predict that many of the world's largest companies are likely going to experience some sort of supply-chain problem. No doubt many Japanese corporate and government IT systems have been destroyed or damaged as well because of the quake and or flood, and those that have not, have had to cope with rolling blackouts. At least the Internet wasn't completely lost.

While most major Japanese and international corporations operating in Japan have data back-up facilities, the majority of individuals probably do not. It is sadly in times like these that remind us of the importance of getting our digital lives - and afterlives - in order.

Estimates range that 300,000 to 500,000 Japanese are or will soon be homeless. When things get back to "normal," which may take months or even years for some, restoring and updating their digital lives will be a monumental undertaking, unless remote back-up services such as those offered by a company like an Iron Mountain, Mozy or similar one have been used.

In addition, as I noted last July, Facebook (as well as other social media companies) has had to come to grips with the problem of what to do when one of its users passes away, which supposedly happens about once every three minutes on average.

While there are only 2.5 million Facebook users in Japan (2% of the population), with the death or missing toll already exceeding 10,000 because of the disaster, some 200 families are possibly going to have the sad task of determining exactly what to do with their departed family member's digital Facebook afterlives.

Recently, a new book called, "Your Digital Afterlife," was published by New Riders Press. It was written by authors Evan Carroll and John Romano, who are editors for the web site The Digital Beyond, which basically tries to answer the stark question that was lately posed on their web site: "You're dead: your data isn't. Now what happens?"

While I haven't read their book yet, National Public Radio did an interesting interview with authors Carroll and Romano in January of this year. They point out that, for instance, that there are no standard set of rules regarding how Internet service and social media providers treat the digital accounts of deceased persons, so family members need to find out which provider(s) was used and for what purpose(s). They also point out that as more financial accounts exist only on-line (financial as well as those involving virtual worlds, for example), it is important that some family member or trusted friend have access to those accounts in case of your death. 

Unfortunately, it often takes a disaster before we start to think about such an event as our own passing, but getting one's digital life as well as afterlife in order is probably long overdue for most of us.

The Conversation (0)

Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
Vertical
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar
DarkBlue1

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":["31996907"]}