Gone But Not Forgotten

Gone But Not Forgotten

Death shouldn't mean deletion. When someone dies, we need a better way to memorialise them on our devices.

As an iOS and macOS user, I use the built in Contacts app for keeping track of people in my life. This means they appear in the Maps app when I type a name, I can tag faces in the Photos app, and of course they appear in Phone, FaceTime and Messages.

Handling death doesn't have to be complicated. But at the moment, it's not addressed at all.

Adding a person's date of death to their contact card should be no more difficult than adding their date of birth.

A deceased flag could be used sensitively in other apps:

  • Phone: don't suggest / prompt to call a deceased person. But do preserve their voicemails.
  • Messages: don't suggest new messages to a deceased person, but do keep an archive of their past message history. Ideally somewhere out of the main list.
  • Photos: no need to change the Faces behaviour. Perhaps don't suggest the Face for photos taken more recently than the date of death, but no major changes are needed here.
  • Contacts: default to hiding deceased people from the main view. Allow searching and/or browsing of deceased contacts.
  • Calendar: option to hide or show birthdays from deceased contacts.

This is all separate from the larger, and more complicated memorialisation of online accounts such as an Apple ID, Facebook login, or other parts of a digital identity.

It's unclear why death isn't handled in the Apple Contacts app yet. Most likely a lack of priority (it's not exactly fun to discuss or promote as a feature) combined with concern around edge cases (expectations of sensitivity increase once you implement a feature like this).

I'm hopeful that 2024 is the year that the contacts app gracefully manages those we love, whether they're still with us or not.

Above: Bringing up this topic on Clockwise episode 535.

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