Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Passing Clouds



I suppose an obvious feature of all "celebrity deaths" is that although many of us will have been aware of the person concerned, to a greater or lesser extent, hardly any of us could ever actually have known them, personally. At most, we will have known the ins and outs of their legend and their works, and thus had a small personal investment in their "passing" (another of those evasive euphemisms for death and dying I dislike). If nothing else, they're a useful dress-rehearsal for the real thing.

Another, less obvious feature is that we all get to know of, say, Leonard Cohen's death at more or less the same time. It's an event, a talking point, an opportunity for reflection and self-definition. This, I have come to realise, is untypical. I recently described how, purely accidentally, I got to hear of the death of an old friend, a year later. In fact, had I not actively sought to satisfy my curiosity about her and made certain enquiries, facilitated by the internet, a whole decade later I might still be under the illusion that she was out there in the world, doing whatever it was she had found to do with her life. It was, after all, a very one-way process: I have since passed on the news of her death, but never once have I heard the sad tidings from someone else.

Similarly, I recently wondered what was up with frame-maker, tempera-painter, and all-purpose curmudgeon Bron Janulis, a frequent commenter on this and various other blogs. Commenters do come and go, but Bron had been a constant presence over the years and, to be honest, in my self-centred way, I was concerned that my posts had become sufficiently boring for someone like Bron to stop visiting, not least because he also failed to show up in my recent poll of regular visitors. But a few seconds on Google revealed that Bron had died in March 2015. I haven't summoned the courage, since, to investigate the fate of some other commenters who have fallen silent. My hope is they did simply get bored (not true: if I'm honest, I'd much prefer that they stopped reading because they were dead).

By contrast, I very recently received an email from the wife of photographer Graham Dew, telling me that he had died. I knew Graham was dying, as he had sent an email to his contact list, more or less apologising for his lack of communication in recent months, and outlining a tragic sequence of medical discoveries culminating in an incurable cancer (Graham was just 57). But, the thing is, I barely knew Graham. He arranged my talk at the Arena Photography Group back in 2012, and we subsequently commented intermittently on each other's work and blogs and exchanged the occasional email, but we never actually met again, despite our geographical proximity (Graham lived in Winchester). My point here is that I heard about his death simply because I was on his email contact list, which he must have passed on to his wife. No contact list; no email; no news.

This made me think about the way the internet has changed things. For example, you, like me, may be wondering what has happened to Mark Woods, who runs (ran?) the estimable wood s lot blog. There hasn't been a new post on there since July 2016 (coincidentally, marking the death of poet Geoffrey Hill). Is he ill? Is he dead? Or has he just lost interest? I'm told he isn't replying to emails ("Hey, Mark, are you dead?"). Which raises the interesting point: who manages our online affairs after we are found slumped cold over a keyboard? Graham Dew managed this supremely well, but most of us won't. How could Bron's family possibly have known the identities of a scatter of people, world-wide, to whom his death was not a matter of indifference? Does anyone – your partner, say – have access to your email, or a list of your main online activities, from Facebook to your bank account, with the relevant IDs and passwords? Do you?

This could be an awful headache for executors in the future, especially now all the banks want you to go "paperless". It will be an online Catch-22: how will you figure out what accounts grandad had, without first already having access to them? How will you know you need to get access to them, without a paper-trail to show they exist? Did he forget to pass on his email password? Oh, dear...

Handling the accounts of the recently-deceased will become a major issue for all online companies, and not just banks. "Grandad just ordered a ten-foot TV, but, ah, won't now be in to receive the delivery, morning or afternoon. No, I don't know his password. No, I'm afraid I don't know the make of his first car, or the name of his primary school, either".

And all those precious family photos conscientiously stored in the cloud? That bit of the cloud just evaporated. Forever. Unless, of course, grandad is one of the minority who bothered to make a will that, these days, needs to include all those access details. Over 55? Got email, bank accounts, a blog, an Apple or Facebook account, etc., etc., all with more than a few IDs and passwords? Make a list; on paper. Just do it. And keep it up to date. If nothing else, I'm sure your friends would like to hear that you're dead.


16 comments:

amolitor said...

I am not dead.

This is related to the concept of a Warrant Canary!

Mike C. said...

amolitor,

"Warrant canary" is a new one on me -- don't think we have anything equivalent here!

Of course, with enough pre-scheduled posts in the pipeline, one could appear to be alive for quite some time...

Mike

Mike C. said...

Actually, for those of us old enough to have used printed computer / programming manuals, the warrant canary is clearly a distant relative of the "this page left intentionally blank" phenomenon.

Mike

Paul Mc Cann said...

Traditionally, in Ireland at any rate, the first column in the daily paper scanned was the 'Death Notices' to check who had died recently. My father always bought two daily newpapers so he could check deaths in both North and South Ireland. With the decline in newspaper readings of recent years that habit appears to have died out (forgive the pun).

There are now internet sites whcih can be subscribed to, and used to check deaths but I think they are mainly used to check funeral arrangements.

I have had your experience of hearing about the death of an old friend years after his demise.Disturbing nt being able to pay ones respects apoart from any grief

Mike C. said...

Paul,

Yes, this is a particularly modern-day phenomenon, I think -- not only do many of us live far away from our original communities, and lose most connections in the process, but electronic media (paradoxically) undermine our connectedness, by making someone disappear absolutely and finally once they stop paying bills and signing on. There's no longer an address book or Christmas card list or file of correspondence for relatives to look through.

Mike

Omer said...

Useful information made entertaining with dry humor (is that a recipe description?) Nice leading photograph.

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Omer, if I ever need a new strapline, that might do...

Mike

ericke said...

I have landed here by accident, as it turns out, but I have had the opposite experience. We had lost touch with someone we had got to know several years before when she came to my university for an extended stay (Friend A). More recently, another friend of ours (Friend B) came to visit, and as Friend B and Friend A came from the same country and worked in the same field, we asked if she had any news of Friend A. We were shocked to hear that she had died.

About 6 months ago, we received an email from Friend A (yes, Friend *A*) asking us how we were and hadn't it been a long time, what a pity we'd lost touch, etc. I checked the email address and it did not end in @heaven.com

I wrote back immediately to express our happiness at discovering she was alive and being given a renewed opportunity to continue the friendship. To which she replied that this was the second time someone had thought she was dead, and that she really enjoyed the resurrections!

Mike C. said...

ericke,

That is strange. Something similar happened to an old schoolfriend, who became convinced people had been spreading the news of his death (if they had, I certainly wasn't aware of it). When he got back in touch (after about 30 years) more or less the the first thing he wrote was "btw I'm not dead".

Even stranger is getting to read your own obituary, which seems to happen fairly regularly, from Mark Twain ("reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated") to Dave Swarbrick (fiddler with Fairport Convention) who used to sell signed copies of it at gigs.

Not many people arrive here by accident...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

The trouble with the paper list is, where do you keep it? Obviously it's got to be very secure, but also very accessible. (You do change all your passwords every two weeks, don't you?)

I had the reverse experience (in a different way to ericke) earlier this year, when I dropped in on a friend out of the blue, not having seen him for a couple of months, to find him alone and extremely ill. I had to climb in the window because he couldn't even get off the floor. Offers to call an ambulance were refused, so I called his best friend round who said he'd take him to the doctor's next morning. Unfortunately, by then he was dead.

https://youtu.be/5zYOKFjpm9s

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

Personally, I use a little address book that sits on a bookcase. Works for me.

As to para 2: yikes.

What is the significance of the link, though?

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

... and the key's under the flowerpot, right?

Yikes indeed.

Something in the lyrics (no, not your face, shtoopid)

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

My God, how did you know that??

Seriously, though -- compared to the dangers of online identity theft or bank fraud, I am completely relaxed about the prospect of someone breaking into my house, identifying one among thousands of books, and using the information therein to get at my emails, etc. I must post an image of our bookshelves sometime...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

This a trick, to get me to come round and read all your notebooks after you're gone, isn't it?

If you're serious about the notebook on the shelf, you need lots of dummy notebooks with incorrect passwords too; only you know which one is genuine...

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

A clever but forgetful guy I know can never remember the PIN for his bank card, so carries a piece of paper with a pseudo-algebraic formula concealed amongst various bits of dummy working that gives the PIN, based on remembering just the number "2"... Superficially elaborate, but actually very simple and pretty foolproof. Of course, if he ever gets mugged by a mathematician...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Yeah, one might sneak up behind him and hit him with some really hard partial differentials.

Apparently PIN numbers have four digits because the bloke who invented them found that was the longest number his wife could remember.