Death leaves online lives stuck in limbo

NEW YORK (AP) W hen Jerald Spangenberg collapsed and died in the middle of a quest in an online game, his daughter embarked on a quest of her own: to let her father’s gaming friends know that he hadn’t just decided to desert them.

It wasn’t easy, because she didn’t have her father’s “World of Warcraft” password, and the game’s publisher couldn’t help her. Eventually, Melissa Allen Spangenberg reached her father’s friends by asking around online for the “guild” he belonged to.

One of them, Chuck Pagoria in Morgantown, Kentucky, heard about Spangenberg’s death three weeks later. Pagoria had put his absence down to an argument among the gamers that night.

“I figured he probably just needed some time to cool off,” Pagoria said. “I was blown away when I heard the reason that he hadn’t been back. Nobody had any way of finding this out.”

With online social networks becoming ever more important in our lives, they’re also becoming an important element in our deaths. Spangenberg, who died suddenly from an abdominal aneurysm at 57, was unprepared, but others are leaving detailed instructions. There’s even a tiny industry that has emerged to help people wrap up their online contacts after their deaths.

When Robert Bryant’s father died last year, he left his son a USB flash drive in a drawer in his home office in Lawton, Oklahoma. The drive contained a list of contacts for his son to notify, including the administrator of an online group he had been in.

“It was creepy because I was telling all these people that my dad was dead,” Bryant said. “It did help me out quite a bit, though, because it allowed me to clear up a lot of that stuff and I had time to help my mom with whatever she needed.”

David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has had plenty of time to think about the issue.

“I work in the world’s largest medical center, and what you see here every day is people showing up in ambulances who didn’t expect that just five minutes earlier,” he said. “If you suddenly die or go into a coma, there can be a lot of things that are only in your head in terms of where things are stored, where your passwords are.”

For more of this facinating article by PETER SVENSSON of The Associated Press, you can read it here.

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