60-second interview with Elaine Kasket

Monday, 26 October 2020
It's unwise to ignore the digital assets and other digital remains left behind when someone dies, says SIG Spotlight speaker Dr Elaine Kasket.

What does your firm or organisation do?

I’ve spent over 15 years as a scholar of death and the digital, speaking about dying, death and grief online to myriad audiences - my most recent book is All the Ghosts in the Machine: The Digital Afterlife of Your Personal Data. As a psychologist, I was originally interested in these phenomena from a bereavement perspective, but my focus has expanded to include philosophical, ethical, legal, and sociological threads too.

What has STEP done for you, individually, or as a business?

The Special Interest Spotlight Week event is my first formal interaction with STEP, but I have a lot in common with STEP member Sharon Hartung TEP, author of Your Digital Undertaker, who has written extensively about our area of shared interest from the Canadian perspective. I’ve always enjoyed mutually fruitful and helpful discussions with trust and estate practitioners about this complex, swiftly evolving area.

What is the most important thing STEP does, in your opinion?

Informing public policy, without a doubt! In the area that I study, technology has rapidly outpaced the law and public policy. STEP is in a great position to inform and guide governments and regulators on a global framework or convention for the definition and handling of digital assets and posthumously persistent digital identities.

You will be speaking at STEP’s Special Interest Spotlight Week which run from 30 November - 4 December. Would you be able to give us a soundbite on what you’re speaking on, and the main issues for the audience to take away?

It’s no longer wise - or even possible - to ignore digital assets and other digital remains left behind when someone dies. At the moment, the big technology companies - which derive their profits from the use and exploitation of personal data - are writing the rulebook on what happens to those data after death.

I hope the panel on which I’m speaking at this Spotlight event (session 16) will impress upon attendees that avoidance is not an option. STEP members need to engage and work proactively on this issue to ensure future regulation is guided by experienced, knowledgeable trust and estate practitioners who hold the interests of their clients, and of the public good, in high esteem.

Why would you recommend that practitioners attend this event?

The digital era has revolutionised the way we store, access, and transfer assets. In such a fast-paced climate, every trust and estate practitioner needs to stay cutting edge through the kind of CPD that will be available through this event.

Do you think it’s useful that event will be held online?

As a speaker who loves engaging directly with the audience and feeds off the energy of the crowd, the move to online conferences and events has been a mixed bag! The opportunities for more personal-feeling networking and serendipitous conversation are definitely changed if not completely lost, and that’s a sadness for me. There is, however, a lot to be said for events being so accessible to a widely dispersed audience – and we’re getting better and better at creating vibrant, exciting experiences online.

What do you most like about your job, and feel is the most worthwhile?

I have multiple strands to my career. I’m a professor, a psychotherapist, a writer, a speaker, and even a live storyteller. I recently completed a novel. It’s not immediately apparent what links all of those, but I think it’s storytelling – storytelling in service of connecting people to their emotions and their humanity, and in service of deepening their understanding of themselves, others, and the world.

What would you say to a young person thinking of a career in this industry?

My colleague Patrick Stokes, author of the upcoming book Digital Souls, eloquently reminded me the other day that once we are written into the book of life, we cannot be unwritten. Our influence and presence continue in the world in a variety of ways – not just through those who knew and loved us, and our descendants who seek meaning and context in knowing where they came from, but also through our contributions that go on in the world.

To my mind, this is the space in which trust and estate practitioners operate – with thoughtfulness and professionalism, they ensure that people’s lives can have meaning and contribution beyond the span of their time on earth, and they also ease the pain and difficulty for people who have lost someone. To provide such services is a privilege and an honour.

What trends do you see in the global private wealth sector at the moment?

I’d highlight the likely rise in importance and uptake of cryptocurrencies, a concept of which the general public has little understanding.

Which social media channels do you use and why?

Social media are not my favourite things, for many reasons, but they are useful for any professional who wants their work to be seen and to make a contribution. The book market is saturated, and it’s essential for an author to be visible if he or she wishes to secure future book contracts!

My Twitter, Instagram and Medium handles are @elainekasket. LinkedIn has proven a useful portal to professional collaboration and connection, and I can be found on there too. I wish I didn’t have to be on Facebook, but some of the research groups of which I am a part, and the storytelling projects that are close to my heart, depend on it for connection and the publicising of events.

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Elaine Kasket
Elaine Kasket

Dr Elaine Kasket is a London-based author, psychologist, storyteller and keynote speaker, and is also an Honorary Professor of Psychology at the University of Wolverhampton. She specialises in death and the digital and is the Bereavement Lead for the Digital Legacy Association.