I am wondering…

I am currently trying to consolidate all of my backups, re-organize all my work and personal files, photos, music, videos etc. As I am going through my stacks of harddrives I am realizing that my kids will eventually inherit a mountain of data.

What will they do with all these files? Will I have to go through eventually and pick the good stuff and save them as ‘your mom in a nutshell’ folder? Or a ‘best of’ folder? Seriously, I find it overwhelming to deal with my own data of 15 years plus. How will they feel looking through it all? Should I handle my data the same as how I handle my ‘stuff at home’ – ‘active file only’? Well, that doesn’t work if we want to go down memory line every now and then, right?

Do you ever think about what your kids will do (or not) with all the data we’ll pass on? And is there data that shouldn’t be passed on?

46 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Related article over at BBC: Virtual Life after Death http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8691238.stm

  2. It’s so odd – was I EVER interested in my grandfather’s stuff? No. What I liked was that he wrote a book about his life, and threw out most of the other stuff. When you are 87, will you seriously really have 43 hard drives waiting for your grand kids to somehow connect to their mobile phones? I say toss it. Life is so varied and endlessly interesting. Write your memoirs. Save 4 of your favorite pictures every year, and use them there. Apply your minimalist design sense to your memories, live in the moment. Leave only your blog for them and write a book about your life when you are 75….

    My folks are in their late seventies, and paring down. I feel like I don’t want to review their files ever. I just want to spend time with them now, and then pay attention to my kids otherwise…

    Good to think about,

    Steve

  3. Well, in terms of social history – history from the ground – or hard drive – up, a lot of the data you may find distracting may be historically and culturally interesting to others. While your heirs may appreciate a thoughtfully edited selection of photos and memoirs, they – and others – may also be interested in tracing the onset of social/design media as a historical phenomena – and as a precursor to who knows what next. I’m not sufficiently versed in tech or design linguistics to know where Swiss Miss fits in on that spectrum, but I do know that this is considered to be a significant blog – one of the touchstones, if we were thinking in material terms. So I wouldn’t pitch everything wholesale – I know it always feels grandiose to consider oneself an important social actor, but that is what makes social history so interesting – it looks at the threads that make up our social fabric, as well as its dominant patterns.

    Thoughtful question.
    Rachel

  4. I had a thought that it would be great to scan in all of the old family photos. Most of them are boring and I can’t bring myself to finish. I immediately delete them if they have no people (unless there’s a Dodo bird or something in the photo).

    I say archive your music, photos and videos and don’t worry about the rest of it.

  5. That’s deep, Tina. I haven’t thought of it until you mentioned it. I guess my blog will be the remainder of what’s left of my virtual activities when I’m gone. If they still read blogs in the future.

    Anyway, it’s something to think about.

  6. I would have loved all the technology we have to archive memories available for my hippy parents: photos, video, ideas they may have had, etc. However, in that same token, I would get sick of their facebook status updates regarding recreational drug use constantly getting spammed.

    Now, having spent many weekends drinking and spamming my own FB status, I hope that my future children don’t get too annoyed with me.

  7. It would have been nice for my “hippy” parents to have all of the current technology to archive their memories. It would be extremely interesting to know what sort of twitter/facebook status the 60′s-early 90′s would have been. Or any previous generation.. the roaring 20′s!

  8. I think the greater concern will be how to access your data in 40+ years vs. how to organize it.

  9. I believe TheDigitalBeyond.com talks about this very same topic. Let us know what you decide to do.

  10. For now, keep it organized. And try to create tangible stuff with it, like albums and books, somebody will treasure it.

  11. I’ve much thought about the same thing for many years. What I’ve done is used Facebook to define me, as my multimedia blog. I’ve noticed since discovering this blog, however, that you often link to things that you like very much. This blog may define you, on some level, much like my Facebook defines me.

    As for all of your files, it may be overwhelming. But you have saved or created all of those files for a reason. Because they were worth saving. Because they were important enough that, should you ever want to return to them, they would be there for you. Those files define you all the same. The fact that there are so many simply means that your definition will be more thorough once you’ve left this world.

    Granted, your children may have so much to sift through. But in all honesty, chances are that they will appreciate the fact that there is so much of you left. They can click and point and look at any file and be able to see just an iota of you… but a part of you nonetheless. They will discover that there are thousands, even millions, of windows to the past, of snapshots and trinkets and memories that, at some point, meant something to you. And I’m sure they will love it.

  12. hehe. we’ve been through this recently, and from a light subject at dinner it became an issue. after many conversations, our conclusions (and of course we never put it in practice, but we do think we eventually will): from, let’s say, a hundred items that interest me (music, info, images, emails) I’ll chose maximum three that are timeless, really intelligent, beautiful, funny, and/or descriptive of
    an important or meaningful event. from those, at the second run, we’ll chose one. ending up with a decent amount of entries, something that can be read in few hours. I’m good with that, as I’m not a keeper (I tend to toss cards the moment after I read them thinking ok, got the message.) my husband keeps stuff, so we allowed him to have a secondary database. of course, we also keep all the hard drives, so if the curiosity is there, the stuff is available. ah, and also, quite
    important, we thought, is to keep the thing updated on the most recent media; my mom collected for years stuff for us, movies and things she liked, but on vhs, and it’s still on my list to get them converted and on dvd. so, note to self: remember not to keep data on floppy disks :). great subject.

  13. hmm… when i am 70s and had past away,i doubt my grand children would be able to access my archive that easily.

    Ok, imagine my grandparent had achieve all his photos on those Iomega Zip Disc.

    Can you image how difficult is it to find one of those drive to access the data residing in the disc?

  14. Whats interesting is how our kids will know everything about our teenage and younger days because of the archive of photos, wall posts, relationship status updates on Facebook!

    Not to mention the entire history of emails that they could read, to find out more about the decisions we took in life, when & where we applied for jobs, where we travelled from our e-tickets, the secrets we emailed our friends, the love letters written over long distance relationships….

    I’ve had so many questions about how my parents were when they were young… I wonder how much my kids will want to know about me and how much I will share… Ideally I would like to share everything but it might be interesting to reveal your life year by year as they get older… like episodes of ‘How I met your mother’ :)

  15. What I would suggest to you is to keep your photo’s and videos seperately from everything else – and labelled!

    You’re a great designer, if you were my mother what I would cherish would be a physical album that you had created with photo’s, your words and thoughts captured with them. Paintings, prints or graphics that I could put on my walls. These are the things that your kids will look at, be proud of and think of you every time they see them.

    Forget the rest, digital is too fragile, too transient…dare I say it, too disconected, distant and boring.

    Seriously, if anyone thinks that their kids are going to go through their facebook wall or mountains of random files, e-mails, etc. just to ‘learn’ about their parents, I believe they are mistaken. When clearing houses in the past, people went through this stuff because it was physical, tangible stuff…generally not to find out about their roots.

    I have enough clutter of my own to sort through let alone any one elses, lol! However, I do have a few treasured physical possessions from my family that I keep. On the whole the rest of my things I really wouldn’t miss if they vanished.

  16. Richard Banks at MSR in Cambridge has a talk called “The 40 Year Old Tweet” (covered a little bit here: http://ubelly.com/2010/04/the-40-year-old-tweet/).

    Also take a look at this post on preserving tweets: http://www.richardbanks.com/?p=2078

    I think the problem with being awash with digital datais that we could be a generation with limitless things to say and share, but nothing that means anything to the next.

    If you could build a tool that assisted review of all of this preserved data as a biography then that might make it more usable/useful. But then how do you maintain the tool over those kinds of periods given the pace of change?

  17. If you want them to see it then put it on paper! Print any special correspondence, photos, interviews, ideas, designs etc.
    This is a reminder to myself as much as anyone. I’m not sure what to do with the video (tape) of my children’s early years which will start to degrade eventually. If I digitise it will they have the hardware on which to view it when they are parents themselves? I have old 8mm cine film from my own childhood and even if I can’t find a projector to view with I can actually hold the film up to the light and see the images. This is my point – we need to preserve things in a format that we can look at without any potentially obsolescent piece of equipment – just our eyes!

  18. I think they will keep a few images and videos and throw the rest away unless it is clearly labelled and archived like a book or scrapbook.

    When my grandparents died in the eighties we inherited hundreds of photos without labels or dates or anything. We did not know what to do with them and did not have the space to keep them all.

    We dumped them.

    From then I stopped taking photos as it seemed to me in the end pointless creating ephmera to be disposed of later. Until that is we got a digital camera. Now we have terabites of images on harddrives for our grandchildren. But at least they don’t take up any space.

  19. What we are undermining the fact that we are trying to predict what will happen in the next 15 years and that there will be superior technologies to search and filter content. Therefore our kids will not have issues of visual clutter, badly labelled content and definitely not space!

    If they would like to see where we travelled in 1995 and with who then they will have new tools and filters and visualization techniques to do so. It might be presented to them like an infographic that we see on Dopplr. (http://www.dopplr.com/traveller/baruag). That is a lot of information compressed into one page in a simple manner. It could even be quickly compiled as a 5 minute movie on a service like Animoto (www.animoto.com) – which I think will be brilliant!. Again, I would assume that my thinking is still conservative… we haven’t even considered immersive and tangible interfaces to navigate through content.

    This will be an interesting issue that Diaspora (www.joindiaspora.com/) can address in the future releases of their product which allows every individual to stay in control of their own data and social nodes.

  20. Tina,
    Have you come across this…
    http://www.thebrain.com

    it can change your life.
    Hope you are well,
    (we met at 99% when I brought u swiss note pads!)
    Cheers
    carol

  21. I’ve thought about this before. I don’t worry about my own organisation of my digital life – I have my photos, and my music, and my illustration work, where I need it, and that’s fine. What I think about is what you say about kids, grandkids in future etc – everything we do, write, say, on big yonder internet is stored somewhere – a permanent record of our fleeting thoughts. Like Rachel says, history will probably find a lot of it fascinating, especially in 500 or 1000 years time. History will probably also find us incredibly boring and ego-centric. But how is this ever going to be processed, ordered, so that it’s somehow relevant and timelined for our kids? Will they even care?

    I think about my facebook for example – god I wish it was invented in the 80s, I would have loved to be able to go through my mum’s teens and twenties for example. But at the same time, aren’t there some things that you don’t want your kids to know about you? I don’t want my kids reading my statuses while I was at uni about how hungover I am or just ‘EPIC FAAAIL’ and crap like that.

    You should check out http://www.rememble.com – it goes some way towards collating your digital footprint into some sort of tangible timeline. “Rememble is a ‘washing line’ for your digital bits and pieces. Thread together texts, photos, videos, sounds, scribbles, scans, notes, tweets… so they’re not drifting in a digital wasteland.”

  22. I would absolutely encourage condensing your favorite memories (photos, stories, traditions, creations, etc.) into some collective format for a deep overview of what defines the core of your life.

    In addition, I would recommend keeping all those files, no matter how messy and unorganized, in some type of storage. I work in archives, and the philosophy is save EVERYTHING, especially if in a compact solution like a hard drive. The great pro to technology is that so much can be saved in so little. And with search possibilities becoming more precise, you provide the world with as much access as you’re willing to offer.

    I admire your work tremendously, and am sure the future will look back to some part of your life for inspiration.

    Best,
    -Lee

  23. my family is dealing with going through all my grandfathers stuff right now.

    my mom is putting together a family album with all the family photos, marriage certificates, diplomas and such, she’s doing it through blurb so she can have a copy printed for each member of the family

    my grandfather was also quite a prolific photographer so she’s sorting through all of his photos (mostly film but digital towards the end of his life) and processing what she can to be sold as stock photography here: http://www.istockphoto.com/file_search.php?action=file&lightboxID=5159460

    and my dad is working through all the financial stuff to make sure nothing important got missed by the banker handling the estate.

  24. There was a discussion of this on NPR the other day. Everyone has their whole life documented now and what happens to that when we die…is it fair to expect future generations to care/have time to go through it or even keep all of this info?

  25. @Carrie – was it easy to go the stock photo house route? I am in the same situation with my father who had a lot of great photographs of Paris and other European cities in the 1960s. I’d like to get them seen, I don’t really care about the money.

  26. I really think that printed stuff is easier to view if it’s about your life, the ways you’ve walked on, the stuff you’ve found by the way…
    What do you think about creating a big mosaic with squared pictures (like pixels), in a wall?, and behind each pixel, a little or big paragraph explaining the reason of that picture. I think it’s easy to update, because the format will be always the same, and you can start it in a wall of your home. And later.. who knows! in a museum? your descendants will be so pride of you!

  27. @SamLowry — no. i wouldn’t say it’s easy at all. my mom does stock photography professionally and is putting a lot of time into processing my grandfather’s photos for that purpose but we all know it’s something he would’ve really loved.

  28. I’ve sometimes thought about what would happen if I revealed all my most private thoughts to my family when I die.

    I’ve decided that the best way about it would be to write a tell-all autobiography, and then put something aside in my will to publish it. Also, since I’ll be dead, the worth of the book would be far greater than it would be otherwise!

    I’m a digital archivist, though, so I’ll also have a drive stuffed with curated memories. I’ve got a bunch of old assignments, and a directory with a few megabytes of pictures I’ve collected over the years.

    Maybe separating things by year would help the historical context. People will be able to look in each folder, one by one, and see how your life progressed.

  29. The question is not how to organize it but really will your children even be able to open the stuff your saving. Will those file formats still be around and will the computers of the future be able to open the files of yesteryear. I often worry about if I’ll be able to open RAW photo files I take today 5 years from now.

  30. An important and interesting thread on metafilter:
    http://ask.metafilter.com/154917/Help-me-show-them-who-I-was

    “I just found out that I have a very serious disease. I may have only a couple of years left, probably no more than five. I have two very young kids. How do I archive stuff on the Web so I know they’ll have access to it, whenever they want, for at least the next 40 years?”

  31. This subject is the stuff of my research as an Archivist, so I find the question and all the comments really interesting.
    As was mentioned in the list of responses however, the biggest worry you will have is access to the data in the future, whether it is the data you have stored on hard drives, or on the web, such as this blog. Technological obsolescence is the biggest issue for archivists and record keepers around the world – there are huge research projects underway to investigate the ever changing nature of technology – although these are mostly related to organisations.
    The Library of Congress thinks that personal recordkeeping is important and has created a set of tools to help people think about and start to organise their data “to help make your personal “born digital” information last.”. http://bit.ly/cum8u4
    It is great to see people thinking and talking about this subject as it is often the personal records and the way they are organised that provide the most valuable historical resources. Check out an exhibition on Salman Rushdie where archivists have met the challenge of his digital self: http://bit.ly/cIXqOh

  32. @gaurabh — one of my concerns with this has been: what about the not-so-flattering things I’ve written or posted about my children? Even if they’re “true” or “accurate” (read: uncontroversial)?. On one hand, it’s what I was thinking about or concerned with at the time. On the other, could it be damaging?

    I’ve thought about this often enough to even occasionally consider self-editing — but I’ve yet to actually do it.

    I’m a pack rat. I’ll just admit it.

    (This thread is such a fascinating topic.)

  33. I wanna be buried with my Hard Drives so I can take my data with my to the afterlife, a bit like the Pharaohs did. Pretty sure when you get to heaven all they play is muzak so don’t forget to pack some headphones as well.

  34. Well, truth to be told, I make my self that question every day… all the pictures, all the books, all drawings, all,… all,… all,… Not so easy, but actually, I’m an old school one, and hurts deep inside when you take the save-only-the-best idea into consideration. Up to now, I have tons of DVD’s with my own stuff, and as long as I keep breathing, I guess I will keep them all :)

    How ever, probably for the time my children might be able to use all that material, the formats in which they are kept, will not be able to be read.

  35. This is something that my friend, and fellow Parsons MFA Design + Tech grad Zach Gage pondered as part of our different theses. Check out: http://www.jencotton.com/recollections and http://www.stfj.net/data2010/index.html

  36. Rememble seems to serve the purpose that I use my Facebook for. Maybe I’ll start to use it some day.

    As for telling me I am mistaken, the world isn’t so black and white. You may see it one way and I’m sorry you fail to understand that everyone sees it through different eyes. I know I would appreciate being able to look through a loved one’s Facebook to remember them, and I know plenty of others that would do (and have done) the same.

  37. When I was in third grade (circa 1989) I remember having visions where my entire life’s work existed only in a digital realm and the entire lot of it was deleted with one key stroke after my death. Pretty heavy for a 10 year old.

  38. Andy Warhol had it easy, I guess… Now there’s an army of volunteers sifting through this monthly time capsules… I would LOVE to be in that room for a day…

    If using facebook to memorialize your stuff, I would highly recommend buying a little downloadable program designed to back up everything you’ve got on facebook – VERY valuable if like me, you ended up making a security settings blunder and accidentally deleted ALL your bio info… :)

    (I think it’s called “SocialSafe” and runs on both Win and Mac boxes.. )
    Just my 2cents… (or is it 2 rappen) ? :)

  39. Personally I would not like to see my history live on, I am type of if I delete something it is deleted, I did not take any pictures or other data, I erased everything despite one or two memoriy pictures in my cellar, I would not want anybode to share. Life is changing and changing is challenging. No outsider who finds it has the right to build opinion on it. Imaging you find access to a computer owned 97% by one inhabitant, 3% by the other, does not this represent 97% one opinion, 3% other opinion? To me it is more than ironic if I should comment e.g. on a real nickel nurser complaining he also has to pay his part of life costs, Nobody can sit in his monitor expecting everything to be done to you, food and drink and all accomodies flying without cost to your desktop, as long years the other one was willing to give and share in times she had more resourses no discussion but one day the other way round one earning so much more had to pay his dues, and if at the end this was a little more than half, it was only a small percentage of 11 years goodness debts, so stop bothering and creating princess pictures not knowing the complete story. For somebody not being a computer person will never find his complete person on a computer data. Let’s look in the future, last year I started having fun with seeing and not searching the internet, but for one year now it’s over, someone determine the pages, applications I “may” find, run etc… so stop and get out of that habit quickly. Some days the moment I switch on my computer my brain goes empty. Nevertheless I try my best to be there but possibly will not be able to win a match just on a computer. Nevertheless I will try my future’s best. And my best cannot come being forced, compare for yourself but don’t put constantly this pressure on my pain, it goes completely the other direction. It works even less, the more I want to give all this back to you, the less I can right now. I want to change, but change is challenging. Don’t keep this for the future, it’s past dust the moment “pasted”…………

  40. If I had the possibility to inherit a mountain of data I would love to see it as a sort of presentable best of overview, a little bit of everything. As generally I think it is so sad potatoeing on your couch, watching through data.. how different could it be finding all this in the words, the faces, the eyes, the movings, smells of a person. Why is data so overrated at our times? It is the littlest peace of the total. How could it be spending this valuable time next to each other, looking each other’s eyes, holding each other’s hand, finding out history and finding the pictures we all have in mind of the other confirmed, challenged, revealed… how could this be? Winning…

  41. I have found real treasure on seeing the internet. A family of an impressive caring character creating luck of every story he is telling, touching and fascinating the heart of a person to that extent it’s even more out of words, it’s a non comparable rare treasure to find and keep it. This treasure is all on my mind even if it’s data history I remember the treasure as I love this treasure country, this treasure person. I should see to do my best treasure line for him now.

  42. This sort of thing comes to mind every time I flip through mountains of anonymous photographs at flea markets – which I love doing. All the vitally important moments, now being pawed at in random clumps with the keepsakes of 20 other lives and the world’s crappiest incense burning from the booth over.

    Who says anyone besides the archivists will care? People have been dumping relatives’ hard copy stuff ever since ever since.

    Going through a person’s media files sounds even more dreadful than sorting through old paperwork.

  43. I love the idea of browsing through my relatives data!
    yes, tangible stuff like physical photo albums are more appealing, but it comes with a downside of a storage.
    As I am the IT guy of the family, I store everything on my HDD. I have separate folders for my family’ stuff and one for my personal encounters: meetings, camps, trips, I do collect my assignments(and not only the final versions, but a sort of step by step process log), diplomas.. + I collect random stuff that I like from the blogs and other media.

    This stuff does not require a lot of space and it’s better to have it than not to have it. It might be the case, that you will need some of this data in the future. + well, if your posterity will not want to review your stuff then they wont. but some of them might, and it would be very beneficial.

    My grandmother somewhy wants to destroy all of her photos and I do not think that it’s fair. Well, yes it’s her personal possession, but why would you do that?

    speaking about logging everything – guys from microsoft are working on alike project. they tape everything on the portable cameras, and then log it. This can give you different kinds of data. data which you might think has no correlation whatsoever, but after browsing you understand it does. sorry, can not find a link on that, but it was impressive.

    I have promised to myself, that whenever I will have a child I will have a log of her/his development, with photos, video, and scribbled notes. All of work of the child will be logged. It sound a bit obsessive, but the log or a diary is a great way of reflection. and that gives a good motivation for a greater development. not only that, but it’s fun. it reminds me of Astrid Lindgren poem “Emil from Lionbera” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_i_L%C3%B6nneberga

    btw, someone mentioned DVD’s as a storage – dvd’s have got an inspiration date. you’re much safer with HDDs.

  44. I enjoy, cause I found just what I was taking a look for.
    You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man.
    Have a nice day. Bye

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