Apple and the rest of the technology industry must face up to death, it’s too important to ignore.
The lost son
To illustrate my point, Apple has refused to unlock a Mac belonging to a man’s murdered son. The victim was a painter and musician with a trove of precious creative work stashed on his machine, and his dad wants to be able to see the data there. You can see his point.
Apple has declined to open up the Mac because: "It is impossible to be certain what access the user would have wanted and we do not consider it is appropriate that Apple make the decision". You can see Apple’s point, too.
The family must now go through the stress, hassle and expense of securing a court order to secure access.
When loved ones leave
Digital consumers cannot yet easily bequeath their digital media to others.
We have no right to leave our iTunes downloads, digital film collections, games or anything else to others when we die. Neither can we sell our digital collections as we may need to if our circumstances change and we need to eat something more than we need to keep any Vanilla Ice albums.
To illustrate the human impact of this lack I think about my mother. She’s left us now, but I still have her (vinyl) music collection. She liked classical music and artists who were popular at her time, ranging from The Beatles to the Stones, Diamond to Brel, Ross to Simone.
Like most people, her music reminds me of a time when I used to lie awake at night listening to it when she played it. I still play her music today to remind me of those days. The music she introduced me to has a special meaning now she's not around to share it. I didn't have to pay for those memories, she was able to gift them to me.
So why can’t we leave our (digital) music to our children? Why must they endure a Year Zero on their cultural and emotional memory? I thought digital was convenient, after all.
Rights for everything
I understand that privacy issues must be addressed. I agree that it is not always appropriate for a parent to see their child’s digital lives without expressed permission.
But surely Apple and the rest of Silicon Valley have the in-house legal muscle to create industry-wide frameworks for expressed permission?
What’s wrong with adding a check box that says, “And if I die I will give permission to this person, this person and even this person to open my computer to do this and that,” — with next of kin as a default, but personalizable setting.
Why this hasn’t happened yet eludes me.
I think it is possibly because computing is still a relatively young industry and we’re only now really getting used to some of the big computer culture heroes leaving the planet, people like Pat McGovern, Steve Jobs, Andy Grove and more.
It is possible this means the industry is only now waking up to the notion that death will happens to all of us. Death is a change agent. The way we address it needs to change.
Time to grow up
It’s about time.
It’s about time because as technology weaves itself inside every facet of human existence, it is no longer an optional choice but an inevitable part of life. And this means that it, like every part of life, needs to be subject to similar rights and agreements as the physical products it replaces, supersedes or amplifies.
There should already be systems in place that allow us to assign such rights. I do not see why such systems must depend on coughing up cash to visit a lawyer when they could be handled just as easily with an industry framework and a few checkboxes.
I’m sure there are problems to be resolved, but given the first personal computers appeared 41 years ago, surely it’s about time someone made the effort to get it together? Why should we have to run the security risk of making printed lists of our passwords when some more connected thinking could improve the process? I know death is a problem, but isn’t solving problems what technology says it is all about? Solve this one.
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