In modern era, the rest is not silence

By Alan Fong, The China Post

People, even the most romantic ones, tend to get practical when it comes to their last will and dying wishes.

In his last will and testament, William Shakespeare famously left his wife with “my second best bed with the furniture,” bequeathed his daughter “my broad silver gilt bole” and his son-in-law “all the rest of my goodes, chattel, leases, plate, jewels, and household stuffe whatsoever, after my dettes and legasies paied, and my funerall expenses dischardged.” On the stabstone over his tomb, the bard wrote only these simple lines: “Good Friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear/ To dig the dust enclosed here:/ Blessed be the man that spares these stones,/ And curst be he that moves my bones.” It seems that, for even one of the most powerful imaginative minds ever, all there is to ensure for his afterlife is that his worldly possessions are properly distributed and his body untouched.

In many ways that attitude makes good sense. After all, big questions like “Where will we go after death?” are matters between a person and God, gods, karma, the Force or the Void depending on his religion or the lack of one. The best a responsible person can do at the end is to settle his worldly business properly and let the rest be silence.

But in our time, however, our “worldly businesses” are considerably more complicated than those in Jacobean England. While nowadays many of us might not have the urge to leave our second best beds to our spouses, there are things that we might find difficult to bequeath because strictly speaking these things do not exist in the real.

A British tabloid reported on September that Hollywood star Bruce Willis was considering legal actions against Apple Inc. for the right to bequeath the music he downloaded from the company’s online store to his children. While the Willis story turns out to be a spoof, the concern of online content ownership is very real.

According to Apple’s terms and conditions — you know, the long passages of legal language you mostly skip reading before clicking the “Agree” button when signing up to the online store — you don’t actually own the music, books, apps and movies, etc. you buy but only the licenses to use them on a maximum of five devices you own. After an owner’s death, his licenses expire. Considering the increasing popularity of online entertainment, the money involved can be considerable. Increased concern over rights to our online possessions might change the situation one day. There are more tricky questions on the passing on of our virtual properties. For starters, what happen to our social media accounts after our time? Should people be allowed to continue using the blogs, Facebook accounts or Twitter handles of their deceased friends and family? For most cases that might not be a problem, except for some people whose blogs and Facebook accounts are valuable brands. Should these famous bloggers, Facebookers and tweeters be allowed to pass on their accounts the way fashion houses pass on their brands? On the other hand, some people might not want their Internet legacies passed on. In the past, a person could burn one’s journals, correspondences and other flammable personal belongings that they deem secret secret. Now, it is difficult for people to be sure that their Facebook posts and chats, their emails and their online footprints will be gone forever after their death. In a nut shell, the rest is not silence anymore.