Vincent Ritter

I'm a dad, husband, geek and an independent software engineer.

What happens after

When someone passes away, they leave all their possessions behind, memories of them in the hearts and minds of loved ones for eternity and, for most of the population, a final resting place where family can gather and mourn. Reflect. This, at its bare basics, lives on for an eternity. Always remembered, passed down generations and generations within the family. Fragments of stories, possessions and sometimes even pictures handed down to family member to family member.

We’re fortunate to live in a digital age, we have tools to make some of these memories last. We can store images, at reasonable resolution, we can store electronic documents of wills and other items. Heck, I think we could even reasonably create a 3D model of ourselves or a loved one that passed away.

Personally, I don’t have many possessions… physically. I’m a minimalist, or try to be. All there is of me are pictures, memories, personal achievements and one thing I value the most, except my lovely wife and beautiful daughter, is my website. This site.

I wrote about it before, but I’ll probably never create physical monuments or build huge skyscrapers that will stand the test of time. No, I’m a developer at heart. I make stuff. For the internet. A digital universe. Something so real, yet not in so many ways.

Everything I make, put out in the world and also work I deliver to clients is history. My history. It’s what I am and it’s what I do. Everything I write here, is history. Good and bad. We all learn from mistakes.

But like anything digital I started wondering, what happens after? What happens when my time comes? It’s only a question of time.

Everybody dies.

“What did he do in his lifetime?”, “He made websites on something we called the internet”. “Can I see his work? Did he write a book about it”…

My website and many others sites, are not a physically printed book. They’re not meant to be. Websites are dynamic, growing with time and wisdom. Books, once printed, are history. Sure, there are second, third and so on editions. Every time we press save or publish a new article on a website, a new edition is “printed”. A new code change. A new edition. A new section on the site, a new chapter.

So, what happens if someone wants to check out my own history, even just for curiosity. Where do they start? Pictures for sure, stories and possessions. But stop right there, my website is now gone - my most valued possession. My digital history that I spent most of my years of my life on. I never printed it. It’s not a physical item. It’s digital. It always will be. It can’t be a book. My domain name, once unique, gone.

Now, truth be told, I have no idea why I’m thinking this. But I know, like many people, they have websites and publish amazing work. Anyone can create a website, apps and what else digital these days. Most things live in the digital.

But the biggest question is, what happens after you have done all your life’s work behind a computer screen, contributing to this digital universe?

It’s complicated. It doesn’t have to be… but it is.

My wife, a bookworm, doesn’t use computers like I do. A fact and trait I love about her, we are pretty opposite when it comes to technology. Sure, she uses her iPad sometimes… but she actually prefers pen and paper. I grew up in the 80s with Star Trek and Star Wars. Of course I like all things digital. Doesn’t mean I had to be. Circumstances could be different. Sure, since I was 5 I wanted to fly metal planes in the sky. A huge computer in the sky!

I know how to boot up a server, create a website from scratch, add HTTPS, buy a domain name and do some other things that some people would call “clever”. No, it’s not clever. It is a machine reading and interpreting a language and doing as I told it to. It’s a language, like any other. I live and breathe it every single day. But, I don’t expect anyone to have the same understanding as me. It might not be their interest. Might be boring to them.

If something would happen tomorrow, I can pretty much guarantee that this site, servers and everything I have ever made and host will be gone within a month. Gone. Probably forever. The domain names gone once they expire. There will be nothing left, no memories of my digital realm. Gone. When my developer plan runs out with Apple, my apps will be gone forever too.

Does my wife know how to get this all running again? No. Do I want her to? No. No, because I know she wouldn’t like it and I couldn’t live with giving her the burden to keep my digital history maintained. And no, because I know it is not her interest. What happens after my wife passes, does she pass on the knowledge? Will my daughter and her children and so on? Probably not. Would they even want to? I don’t know. Am I sounding selfish now?

Sure, we have the internet archive, a website called Wikipedia and some great search engines. But ultimately, they can’t convey the message of the digital “real”. Domain names expire, it is a fact of life. Sure, they can auto renew… but what will that look like in 500 years time? As far as I’m concerned, the only real thing I made are my websites and apps. Not what someone said somewhere on Wikipedia (If only so lucky), only to be edited by someone with a different story.

I don’t know what the solution is to keep these digital lives pure and accessible where and what they are now and, will be, in future. Forever. Eternity. No matter your history, good or bad. For anyone with even minuscule interest for you. May it be very distant and future relatives, or a historian looking for people with specific pasts. You name it.

A lot of our lives are digital now, it seems to be the way of the future. Services come and go and you probably can’t rely on them because they took outside funding with an interest with selling your data to someone else that actually has no real interest to you.

I don’t know what we need. A digital body or non profit organisations to preserve our digital lives for eternity is a good start. We all pay taxes and social contributions, so why not build that into the governments. A basic human right to preserve the digital self… not for profit, but for the greater good. For your family, near and far.

Knowing that this site will remain running, even if just purely static, in 500 years on this very domain… wow. Books can be preserved, why can’t we do the same for our digital lives? Automatically, without much thought, except a one time click of a button that marks your digital live as “preservable”? Accessible to anyone, anywhere.

An insurance, built into our tax systems or even privately, that takes over the ongoing domains, digital assets and you name it.

It sure isn’t an easy task to even achieve something like this. But sitting here… now… seeing more people being “digital” I only wonder what will become of their past digital, yet real, selves when it’s time.



We have the technology to preserve data better than ever. Is it not worth to try and learn from the past and preserve as much as possible to see the real person behind it as purely as possible?