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Making the eSCENE

Must fiction be print to be hip?

The Living and the Dead

An in-depth look at death in America reveals how stories become the salves of the living.

The Wings of Perseus

The modern-day world of the ancients.


A new Internet guide with venerable roots.

Bureaucrats with 'Tude

The IRS tries to lighten up. It's a bit of a strain.

Revolution 2.0

Esther Dyson wants to redesign the digital world -- or at least get the brainstorming started.

News You Can't Use

The art of the parody is alive and well.

A Prairie Home-Page Companion

Don't know what socks to wear? Ask Garrison Keillor.

The Witch's Voice

Coming out of the broom closet.

Chess on the Net

An online community where those with the best moves always mate.

In the Valley of the Kings

Breaking new ground in Egypt -- and on the Web.

Autumn Tapestry

The traditional art of weaving -- in code.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.

November 26, 1997

There is something beyond the grave; death does not end all, and the pale ghost escapes from the vanquished pyre.

--Sextus Propertius, Elegies
Not long ago a quiet but passionate essay appeared online bearing the title, "Things to Do on the Web When You're Dead." In it, the author, David Blatner, describes the surprise he felt "when a friend of mine asked if I would host his Web site after he died." Honored to be asked "to protect something so precious," Blatner agreed to help -- and then began to reflect. "I wonder," he writes, "how many people's sites are simply being 'turned off' when they no longer have a voice (or a checkbook) to sustain them. I keep thinking: If my grandparents had built a Web site, wouldn't I want it archived and available on the net in the years to come for my grandchildren?"

It's a beguiling -- and perhaps inevitable -- concept. As Blatner points out, one has to assume that "within the next few years the 'passing on' question will become one of significance" on the World Wide Web. Thinking ahead, Blatner is now in the process of creating an international non-profit organization, to be called AfterLife, that will allow people "to bequest their web sites with the knowledge that the site will be available indefinitely to their loved ones and other interested parties." The service will be made available at minimal cost; to that end, Blatner is recruiting volunteers and has already managed to find an organization (the appropriately named Point of Presence Company) willing to donate server space.
Multimedia memorial
Where will this all lead? Will the Internet become a vast genealogical treasure trove, rich in multimedia memorials? There are signs that it may: Web sites already exist that allow mourners to memorialize people and pets, and entrepreneurial equivalents of AfterLife are sure to multiply in the years to come. Who knows? The funeral industry may soon peddle not only coffins and headstones but also digital cemetery plots, thus forever changing the meaning of such terms as "grave site" and "terminal care." And it just might turn out that, after all, there is life after death. Virtually.

Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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