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Digital immortality in an online age

March 4, 2014

Digital immortality in an online age

What happens to your online photos, videos and texts when you die? And will a digital archive of your life help or hinder historians and your descendants as they delve into life in the 21st century?

Digital immortality describes the online digital archive of writing, photos, videos and blogs that outlive the content’s creator/user.

It’s a topic that has fascinated Associate Professor Pete Seel, who is visiting Massey University’s Albany campus from his base at Colorado State University. He is currently in New Zealand researching a book on the topic, to be published in 2015.

Hosted by the School of English and Media studies, Dr Seel will be presenting a lecture on digital immortality to students and the public in the Sir Neil Waters Lecture Theatres at the Albany campus on March 11 at 1pm.

The relatively new development of digital technology and the proliferation of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram means people are accumulating online archives which could become permanent historical records of their lives, says Dr Seel. If the user’s descendants agree to keep that content online after their death it could serve as an ongoing memorial and resource for historians, genealogists and the descendants themselves.

“Humans have sought immortality since the dawn of homo sapien consciousness, and it has been a driving force for civilization,” he says. “Today we can achieve a form of cultural immortality, dependent on power supply and digital storage, that is an aggregation of a lifetime of posted online text, photos, and now video. Could the day come when we will be able to upload our consciousness? If so, what are the implications for society if this occurs?”

Although embarrassing photos posted online may appear to live on forever, social media archives can be manipulated by users – something Dr Seel will also address in the lecture.

“If we teach our students that ‘the Internet never forgets’ as they post personal images and text online, should we also ethically teach them how to make the Internet ‘forget’?” he says.

Dr Seel was a photojournalist, and television producer-director for ten years in the US and now researches telecommunications, new media technologies, digital television, and documentary history and production in the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication at Colorado State University.

His book, Digital Universe, was published by Wiley-Blackwell in 2012.

The lecture starts at 1pm in the Sir Neil Waters Lecture Theatre 100.

For more information on upcoming lectures and events, go to the website:


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