â€œAt the beginning of the computer era, people died with passwords in their heads.â€
It was an administrative nightmare, with emails, photos, diaries, and financial information locked away for all eternity simply because people kept crossing into the beyond with the only set of keys. Eventually, Eagleman writes, a solution emerged: software called Death Switches that would detect a personâ€™s demise and send prewritten, postmortem emails to next of kin, sharing passwords. But it didnâ€™t take long, Eagleman goes on, for people to realize they could communicate more than passwords. They could say good-bye or get in the last word of an argument.
As it turns out, Eagleman wasnâ€™t just writing fiction. In 2006 he launched a real-life startup, Deathswitch, to provide the service. Subscribers are prompted periodically via email to make sure theyâ€™re still alive. When they fail to respond, Deathswitch starts firing off their predrafted notes to loved ones. The company now has thousands of users and effectively runs itself. Among the perks of a premium Deathswitch account is the ability to schedule emails for delivery far in the future: to wish your wife a happy 50th wedding anniversary, for example, 30 years after you left her a widow.
Death is the original other dimensionâ€”a parallel universe that, for millennia, we have anxiously tried to understand. As software, Deathswitch is relatively simple, but as a tool in that millennia-long project it can feel spine-chillingly disruptive. Eagleman has jury-rigged a way for people to speak from beyond that inviolable border andâ€”for those of us still sticking it out on this sideâ€”to feel weâ€™re being spoken to. Itâ€™s another example of technology enabling things that previously would have seemed magic.
Hat tip to the Dish.