It was a Thursday afternoon, and I was sitting next to a hospital bed talking to my brother in law. He had been battling cancer for well over a year and he seemed to be doing better after a rough couple of weeks. It was polite chit chat, just checking his spirits and keeping him company for a few hours…On Friday morning he unexpectedly took a turn for the worse, the infection he had been battling had come back and he went into septic shock; by Sunday morning the young loving father of two little boys was gone. If I had known that I was going to be the last person to have a long conversation with him, how different it would have gone, I would have given him reassurance that we would look after his family and that we would all make sure his two little boys knew who his father was and the legacy he was leaving behind. I would have held his hand and told him we loved him and try to provide closure. I truly regret not being there for him when he needed me the most...
With each passing year, more and more of our lives and experiences are being recorded, and will probably outlive us and be available for our descendants several generations in the future. We fret about how we will be remembered or if we will be remembered at all. We also grow ever more concerned of how our virtual selves could be used or abused once we are gone.
Loved ones want to remember and honor their departed, but don't have the time, tools, or know how to properly gather and organize virtual and physical information left behind.
Life Curating Experts will help protect and safeguard a person's identity and legacy, dealing with processes and companies (such as banks and social media corporations) that might seem overwhelming for a single inexperienced person to take on.
The target audience for this service will be people close to retirement age or already retired (65 or older). The rationale is that these group has a clear life story and legacy to tell and normally have a more stable set of accounts and services that need to be managed.
Younger generations will be engaged by offering the service to help them record and manage the accounts of their older relatives. This initial contact and service would create the personal ties to extend the services to them in the future.
Life Curating Experts would help create a collection that tells the story of the person and their legacy. Curating would require a diverse team to interview, write, find and collect data, pick out what is most representative, and put everything together to tell the person's life story.
This team would also provide an ever more important service of cleaning up and securing our virtual self. With their experience and know-how they could help protect the identity and provide the loved ones with a list of activities and actions that they would need to do to handle internet accounts (email, payment systems, banks, department and virtual stores, social media, cellphone service, etc.)
A life curating team could begin work at two different moments:
While the person is still living, preparing a plan and vision together.
This would be the ideal option. It would be possible to map out the person’s accounts ahead of time and leave proper instructions and procedures in place to facilitate closing them out or handling after death. The person would be able to do some introspection and possibly make different life choices that could lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.
After the person is departed and help loved ones collect and protect the information.
The curating team would first make sure the person’s identity and legal matters are protected to give the loved one’s peace of mind so they can focus on preserving the legacy and memories.
The team would help family and friends clean out and make sense of what was left behind. Find the hidden treasures, representative items and keepsakes while helping them handle the rest.
The company would provide different levels of service, from simple consulting to a full hands-on operation to curate all aspects of the person’s life. The process could be started by the individual who want to curate his life (preferred), or by the legal representative of the deceased. I would assume that most cases would fall on the latter.
The team would be comprised of experts in different fields, each would focus on different parts of the process:
1. A team leader would start the process interviewing loved ones and people who knew the deceased to prepare a profile of the person.
2. A certified virtual life expert to back up all available data available and manage cleanup, closing/transfer of accounts.
a. A cloud storage service with a standard tree directory can be designed to facilitate backing up data and storing it for easy access.
3. An expert to handle the person’s physical assets and stuff. Help inventory, store and define what to keep and what to give away based on the person’s profile.
a. In some cases, it could mean putting most stuff in storage until any legal situation is settled.
b. Pictures and important information could be scanned and/or transcribed to a database to be uploaded into cloud storage.
4. A legal expert that can help provide guidelines, link with local contacts and partners to ensure that all benefits, insurance, debt, and any other legal affair is identified and what actions need to be taken.
5. There would be a pool of artists (writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, multimedia, etc.) that would be hired to comprise a final rendering of the person’s life.
6. There would also be a pool of social workers, thanatologists, psychiatrists, religious leaders, etc. that could be tapped into to ensure that the grieving loved ones are treated in the best and most respectful way possible.
The company would create standard checklists for each major aspect that need to be addressed. The checklist would serve as a guideline to ensure 80-90% of the items are handled correctly and transparently. The other 10-20% would be more easily called out and assessed to determine the best course of action.
Once the company is contacted, the first step would be to talk and help determine the best package. From simple internet cleanup to full immersion into every aspect of the person’s life. The team would deliver a “Life Manual” in the form of a scrapbook that contains a short bio of the person, pictures, and instructions on how to access and manage the data left over in the web, legal information, how-to’s, FAQs, etc.
Social media pages that are left active would allow people to keep adding pictures, messages, and would provide a mural of the person’s life. Any mementos would have a clear story behind them.
In the end, loved ones would have the peace of mind that affairs are in order and they’ve honored the person while facilitating people to move on.
As part of the research process for this proposal, we came across a company called Everplans. Everplans is an established company that already provides storage and handling services for important personal information (Wills, medical, accounts, etc).
After an initial email exchange with them, they believe our services would be complementary and make a good fit. They normally license their platform to businesses for 2500 USD/yr or offer individuals the service for 75 USD/yr. I believe Everplans would be a great partner to handle the central data handling and storage service and we can focus on rounding out curating the legacy and on-going experience and personal service for our clients.
Everplans shared a whitepaper with relevant research and polls to the type of service we are proposing (See attached whitepaper). Based on this research data, we can see that there is a big market and interest in this type of service, but turning interest into action is a real challenge.
There is also a clear cross-generational interest in sharing memories and heirlooms, which would be the key to getting a larger swath of the population involved in our service:
I also had a short exchange with Alok Deshpande, founder of the now defunct Umenta.com a web service that focused on gathering stories and launching them in an interactive web platform. His feedback was that of caution. He said to beware of excessive praise and false positives. People don't follow up with what they say they'll do. He also pointed us towards storyworth.com, which is a similar platform that is currently struggling to get traction.
There is growing need and interest to protect our online information from abuse. There is also cross-generational interest in sharing memories and heirlooms with loved ones.
There is a very large hurdle that needs to be overcome: getting people to act on their interest in this type of service. We need to develop a simpler service that allows people to be more hands-off initially and make interactions more enjoyable and memorable.