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  • Bruce Willis, I heard, is taking Apple to court. He has put his entire iTunes collection into a trust and is suing for the rights to bequeath it to his kids. That got me thinking about our digital assets in general - that prolific, but ephemeral legacy of our generation which may or may not be passed along.

    My sisters and I had the bittersweet bonding opportunity a few years ago, when we moved our parents, to sort through boxes of letters and books of grainy photos from multiple generations - the confirmation of a rich oral family history, laid out in piles on the floor. There was the infamous letter my father wrote on his way back from the war warning my mother that perhaps, after all, "absence does not make the heart grow fonder..." an admission that nearly cost us kids our very lives and our father his eventual happiness. We found my great grandmother's scribbled diary through those years when, miserably deaf and isolated, she lived on the kindness of family. I remember her well. We uncovered an old framed photo of my grandfather explaining the design of the Palomar observatory to Albert Einstein. Even further back, a great-great-great-great-great confided in careful long-hand his discomfort with slavery and his fear of impending war. Treasures, all, to be handled once or twice by each generation and then returned to the box for the next.

    We write at least as much today, recording our daily pains, pleasures, triumphs and fears, but mostly in electronic form. Our recorded thoughts and photos rest scattered in desktop files that no one will ever be able to find or leaf through. We hold high our iPhones to record our every move and meal, and those of our friends and family. And, of course, our cats. I often joke that my grandchildren will be the most over-photographed generation in history. But what will happen to those pictures? It seems that our abundant virtual outputs await one of two distinctly different fates - either they will be too ubiquitous to carry weight or, conversely and more likely, they will be irretrievable to history, gone, locked by a password that will die when we do.

    It has become exceedingly cheap and easy to produce photos and words for family and friends - and to publish them to strangers. Yet it is hard to remember the extra steps required to make them accessible to those who will be interested once we are gone. I have been careful to keep my financial affairs in order and to ensure my kids know where to find the keys to my house. Maybe it's time for me to be equally conscientious with the family's digital history.

    Photo: My mother goofing around with her father on the Jersey Shore, 1930
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