The death switch


If you die, how will your online friends know?

Many of you have “the envelope” tucked away in a desk somewhere. Scrawled on the front is something like, “do not open this until I’m dead.” Maybe inside you’ve got the important stuff — insurance papers or the locations of key documents. More often than not, the first time a family knows the envelope exists, is when they stumble across it years later while looking for a paper clip.

With more of our lives being spent online, who will know when you’re gone? What will happen to all that stuff locked behind passwords only you know? What if there’s stuff online that your survivors need to know that you never got around to telling them?

Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist David Eagleman has set up the online version of the envelope called Deathswitch.

Here’s how it works: You sign up for this and configure it the way you want. It sends you an e-mail however often you want to be “pinged,” so that the Deathswitch can make sure you’re still kicking. If you don’t respond, it goes into “worry mode,” and eventually, if you don’t respond, it announces to the online world that, yes, you’ve gone toes up.

Here’s an extended version of the Future Tense interview I did with Dr. Eagleman, who, incidentally, is also a writer of fiction. His first book is “Sum: Forty tales from the afterlife.”

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One Response to “The death switch”

  1. Marissa B. says:

    I read David Eagleman’s book SUM last month (one of the best books I’ve read in several years), and, separately, I had come across the deathswitch site online (a great idea). But until now I hadn’t realized that Eagleman’s story “Deathswitch” in SUM was actually describing this real idea, and that the same person was behind both! I’ve done some research on Eagleman now and am amazed at the broadness of his thinking. Turns out his main job is as a brain scientist, and he publishes scientific papers at an enviable pace. Does this man ever sleep? This is the kind of person that we want in Congress, or at least the kind that we wished we had as a professor back when we were in college!