Those seemingly inane selfies on social media will live on
beyond death and become a valuable record for future
descendants and historians, a visiting American academic
Associate Professor Pete Seel is here to research a book on
"digital immortality", and will give a lecture on the concept
at Massey University's Albany campus today.
Digital immortality describes the online digital archive of
writing, photos, videos and blogs that outlive the content's
creator or user.
The pervasiveness of social media means children growing up
today will have 60 or 70 years' worth of personal content
that will ultimately become a public record of their life, Dr
Seel told the Herald.
"It means that anybody who has an active online presence,
that online presence will long outlive all of us.
"Unless somebody consciously takes it down, it will stay
there pretty much permanently as long as servers are in
business and we have electricity."
Dr Seel said young people were often told about the more
immediate dangers of putting inappropriate content online,
but there were longer-lasting effects - including how
descendants would view their great-great-grandfather or
"I did a paper while in college about my grandmother's life.
So I interviewed her and discovered all kinds of facts that I
wasn't aware of.
"Whereas young people born today, their grandchildren will be
able to have access to a huge amount of information, some of
which you may not want them to know."
Others would also be interested in trawling through past
generations' online content.
"People joke about tweets being about trivial things, but
tweeting is often about daily life ... for a sociologist or
historian or anthropologist it's an incredible goldmine."
Dr Seel, who was a photojournalist and television producer
and director for 10 years, teaches his students at Colorado
State University how to make the internet partly "forget".
While embarrassing content often cannot be entirely removed,
it can be pushed down the list of search results by newer
content - fresh social content and websites linked to a
"So when people search you they won't see the goofy photos of
you when you were 16 acting crazy."
- Nicholas Jones of the New Zealand Herald