In the Event of My Death

For my mother’s 70th birthday celebrations, my sister-in-law, Naisha, put together a book of family photos ranging from my mother and father’s childhoods right through to the present day. The tools like iPhoto’s books and other services make this remarkably easy apart from the considerable time it took for Naisha to gather, scan and lay out the photos. We all looked through the book over and over again, rediscovering the joy of having photos in your hands.

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For a while now, I have been thinking about two issues in the event of my death and posted some musings about them on the IxDA list back in 2008. The first issue is what happens to all those passwords I have in my head and/or safely stored in my 1Password app if I get hit by a bus? I can share my master password with, say, my wife, but if she dies with me, then all the domain name registrations for my family and clients, e-mail accounts, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, banking, etc. are lost. There seemed to be an opportunity for a service that handled all of this easily.

The second issue is one of an enormous personal archive. As I was searching for photos to give to Naisha, I discovered that I have 19,500 photos in Lightroom, which amount to around 43GB. What’s going to happen when I’m 70? Given that my digital photos start from around 2001, if I carry on creating photos at the same rate, my grandchildren can expect to be sifting through around 63,000 photos and that doesn’t include what will no doubt be a proliferation of video too. I have over 160 articles that I have written, not including my blogs plus all sorts of other collections of documents that might be a useful research resource (my collection of research papers and eBooks is around 4.5GB too).

It doesn’t make sense to me for most of that to simply disappear, especially the web-based material. So one option is to will all of my intellectual property to the creative commons. This all sounds good, but what about all the personal photos of me with other people who might object to them being public? Should I care once I’m dead? (Or, rather, should I care in advance of dying?). But there is another issue, which is how to make all those files useful to my children and grandchildren.

Entrustet seems to be a service that is half of what I was thinking about.

It has a service called Account Guardian to which you entrust your various online account details. Once your death is verified, the details get released to your Digital Executor (a trusted friend, family member or, I suppose, a lawyer, but who trusts them?). There is also an Account Incinerator, which does the opposite – it deletes certain accounts and information on verification of death before your friends and family get to have a look. And there is the possibility to set up an heir to your accounts, so you can nominate your grandson to take over your Twitter name, for example.

Potential problems with the service begs the perhaps unsolvable questions: Should I entrust all that information to Entrustet and do I really trust the person I nominate as Digital Executor?

The latter problem is solved by Entrustet requiring proof of death, so my trust of the executor is a moot point by then. I wondered if some kind of nuclear missile launch key scenario would work better, where two trusted people have to bring together the two halves of a digital key to unlock the account.

The trust-of-Entrustet is more problematic – I have no relationship built up over time with Entrustet and I have no idea whether they’ll still be around in 40 years time. The dotcom industry hasn’t got a great reputation for long-lasting brands. I probably wouldn’t trust Google (although I already trust them with plenty of log-in details). I might trust Agile because I already have trusted them with my 1Password details.

It still doesn’t solve the other half of my problem – who is going to sift through what will probably be a few terabytes of files by the time I croak, assuming I die of old age? Maybe there is a service opportunity for a book to be automagically created once a year of your best photos, blogposts and tweets based on something like Flickr’s interestingness. A kind of physical, cross-media version of Photojojo’s Time Capsule.

(Entrustet link via Crackunit via @mattonlymoore)

The Rules of Currency

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Image: J0nB0n

Stephen Sniderman’s excellent 1999 essay, Unwritten Rules, in The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology talks about the tacit agreement of unwritten (and impossible) rules required for any kind of play or game. He uses currency as an analogy – we all know the piece of paper is inherently worthless but don’t argue over it when we buy a carton of milk. We mutually agree that a dollar is worth a dollar.

Then, this sentence jumped out at me:

“The system works even though no one can explain it fully and even though we all know it could collapse at any moment if people stopped trusting each other or the system itself.”

Indeed it could has.