Open Source Cadavers

Written by @Willow Brugh, with feedback and general awesomeness from John Willbanks, Sam Klein, and Michael Stone. Additional props to Adrienne and Sands for edits, and to Fin and Matt for kicking my butt into delivery.

In loving memory of my crypto-loving, open-access enthusiast, and occasionally suicidal friends. We will build more open worlds with our corpses. I just wish you would have held off for more unavoidable causes.

Early this year, yet another friend of mine up and died. There was of course a mess of things that had to be figured out. It wasn’t just the traditional things of cleaning out her house (I wasn’t around for that part) or figuring out the funeral (Viking in variety). It was new and interesting technical and moral turmoil of getting into her hard drive, questions of “should we even?”- her prolific music and authoring contributions rivaled by her extreme privacy. It was seeking the edges of her far-flung pockets of internet community to notify them personally, racing the deluge of social media notifications, not wanting them to find out about her the same way I found out about my grandmother – before the familial phone tree had reached me, a peripheral friend calling me based on a facebook post from my sister. A morbid seismic wave.

While I don’t have any control over how others plan for (or don’t) their demise, I have a say over my own. I can show my care for people dear to me my own compulsive, facilitating way by¬†being sure they find each other as they find out, and in making sure information and knowledge I have to offer continues to be released under open access, even if I’m not there to do it. From doing humanitarian and disaster response (and just a general “awareness of the abyss,” as my mother used to tell my vast and angry younger self), I have had to face the looming possibility of my own death head-on. The networked reality that brought those strange new questions and moral quandaries for my friends’ deaths can instead be used to carry forward care and knowledge. This is a sort of guide for the bits of postmortem planning the internet and most lawyers have missed. It’s not complete – I’ve run into some interesting blocks and quirks, around which I’m eager to collaborate with others.

This post is less about things like wills (what happens to material possessions, who doles it out, and the like) and living wills (if you want to be kept on life support etc) – although I’ve added the templates I used to the wiki associated with this post as it includes digital artifacts and more awareness of gendered pronouns than other bits of the internet. This write-up focuses on specific aspects for Open Access and encryption enthusiasts. Brace yourselves for a morbid entry. Know I’m peachy keen, and being an adult about things, not in danger of harming myself or others. If you are in danger of harming yourself, please say as such directly, and get help, rather than indirectly through things like estate planning. It should be possible to speak about death without fear – that’s what I’m doing here. I hope you can hear it (and act) from a similar place.

I’ve divided components up into documents, accounts, notifications, and people. Documents are centralized with accounts, which are propagated via notifications to people, as triggered by a notification from a person. This means I only have to worry about keeping something up to date in one place — a change to a will or to a website password simply happens in the place of storage, without needing to notify everyone involved. As people become close to me, or exhibit destructive¬†behavior, they can be added or removed from the notification pool. The notification mechanism is the one thing that has to remain consistent in this set up. Continue reading