What’s Your Problem?

Postmortem email, and other advice

By Jeffrey Goldberg

What happens to my e-mail accounts when I die?
T. C., Kansas City, Mo.

Dear T. C.,

If you suspect that you’re going to die soon, I suggest that you print out important correspondence, or share your password with a loved one. If you have a Yahoo e-mail account, no one will be allowed access to it, so your contacts will have to be notified of your death some other way; the company will permanently delete your e-mails when it receives a death certificate. Gmail is a bit more generous. Your legal representative will be allowed access to your account when proof of death is provided. AOL also transfers the e-mail account to your designated representative upon receipt of a death certificate. The new user will have the option of sending out a death notice, or simply deleting the account. Individual companies have different policies, of course. When we die here at The Atlantic, our e-mails and other forms of electronic communication are collated, bound, and offered for sale to the general public. I highly recommend such works as The Collected Facebook Postings of Henry James (in nine volumes—he updated his page constantly); Harriet Beecher Stowe Tweets the Great Contest Which Still Absorbs the Attention and Engrosses the Energies of the Nation; and, of course, Thoreau’s BlackBerry.

I have always enjoyed watching baseball on TV, and as a Yankees fan, I found the last World Series very satisfying. But maybe it’s because I am getting older (I just turned 40) and have become picky or sensitive, but all the spitting in baseball is really getting to me. Is it just me, or is there more spitting than ever? It’s going to ruin my appreciation of the game.
R. S., New York, N.Y.

Dear R. S.,

I can’t imagine that the amount of spitting in baseball has increased dramatically over the years—I doubt that Alex Rodriguez spits more than Ty Cobb. The key difference between now and then: high-definition television. I’m guessing you watched the World Series on a 42-inch plasma HD screen. This was a mistake. Everything looks worse in HD, especially spit. Get yourself a small, bad television. Or better yet, a radio.

Sometimes when we’re driving somewhere and silent for a while, my husband will turn to me and ask, “What are you thinking about?” What should I say?
P. D., Madison, Wis.

Dear P. D.,

Good question. Here are a few possible responses:

“I was just thinking about how great you look in sweatpants.”

“I was just wondering whether it would be possible to have sex in the car right now.”

“I was just wondering whether it would be possible to have sex while watching a football game on television.”

“I was just thinking that I’d love to see your baseball-card collection from when you were 10.”

“I was just thinking that it is totally unfair of me to expect you to be interested in my emotions.”

“I was just thinking that we should probably hire a Swedish au pair.”

Do you have a contract with The Atlantic? Your column, What’s Your Problem?, is witless. It’s stupid. It doesn’t belong in The Atlantic. Is the magazine legally obligated to publish it?
D. R., San Bernardino, Calif.

Dear D. R.,

The Atlantic is, in fact, legally obligated to publish this column. I am prohibited from discussing exactly why because of a gag order imposed by one of several judges in a long-running civil dispute. I am allowed to tell you that the case is being heard by both the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and the Court of Appeals of the Cayman Islands. Without going into detail, I can say that this struggle concerns the disposition of the estate of Leona Helmsley; accounting irregularities at the Uzbek national oil company, Uzbekneftegaz; the Mexican drug cartel La Familia Michoacana; Philippe de Montebello; the First National Savings and Loan Association of Lagos; and former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. Once the case is resolved, rest assured that The Atlantic will resume regular programming in this space.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/01/whats-your-problem/307822/