The easy answer, of course, is that it all gets destroyed, or disintegrates with time.
What about our digital data? All those photos and files on our cloud drives, flash drives. Much of that might not even be accessible if a loved one doesn’t know our password.
Again, the easy answer is, once that cloud subscription isn’t being paid, or those hard drives age and corrode, that data will be deleted or lost. Yet, given the ease of transporting such information—it’s easier to store thousands of photos digitally, than, say, in scores of physical albums—will the fate of such data change?
Will there be a place for ‘orphan’ data to be deposited, a communal cloud of remembrance, a digital cemetery of memories, tidbits, photos and social media posts whose owners are deceased? This is beyond a mere archiving of websites. Could the collection of such a database be the beginnings of a shared reality, where users access the memories—via pictures, videos, etc.—from the ‘orphan’ cloud? Will companies purchase digital collections from the loved ones/estates of the deceased, commodifying them? Will companies automatically obtain content ownership if its storage subscription isn’t paid?
Or will it all be deleted, leaving no trace, save for a few lines in a recycle bin log file?
All of this assumes our society continues its path into the Information Age. It’s easy to surmise that everyone will have their own cloud drives, whether people use them or not. With the ubiquity of mobile devices and networks, this is not a distant future. And as more products are embedded with microcomputers collecting data on everything we do, that information will require a storage location. There will be some pros, but many cons, under such a system. There already are. Information is currency, and I would be surprised if companies don’t take advantage of the ‘orphaned’ data I’ve described. Not only could a corporation control your present, but they would also own your past as well. Orwell’s worst fears realized, with one’s narrative and history manipulated on the fly. It’s true this could be managed without having to purchase the data of a dead person, but enabling its sale breaks down one more legal barrier.
This could have greater implications, should artificial intelligence reach sentient levels, and that intelligence is stored on a user’s cloud. It becomes a civil rights issue, which, in truth, data already falls under that sphere in a society under constant surveillance.
Regardless of benefits or dangers, this strategy might not be wise over the long term.
Physical items leave some sort of trace, even in a landfill. But digital cloud data, becoming the modern form of such ephemeral storage, will leave nothing. What will future archaeologists have to excavate, save circuit boards and magnetic cores? One could postulate that this is why long-term records does not exist/have yet to be discovered. Perhaps an ancient civilization, or an alien one, stored their data as such, and has since became inaccessible, lost, deleted, corrupted. How would we ever know?