Written by Judy Epstein Friday, 18 May 2012 00:00
I can’t believe it just happened again. For the kajillionth time, I am locked out of my own computer.
It happens with everything, now that my life is lived almost completely online. Maybe your life is different, but nowadays I need one password to get into my computer and another to look at my email, another to cash a coupon, to read an article, to look up a recipe or to order a shirt. I need a password for boots from L.L. Bean, and another to check on the status of a book I ordered from Amazon. I need a password to check that we’ve paid the balance for summer camp and another to look in my bank account and see if there’s any money to pay with. Heck, I need a password just to log onto a website and find out where to pick up my children after sports! To take a break, I read some electronic news. I follow a link to another story, about which someone has written something moronic. I must make a comment and set them straight – but first: “What is your password?” It is never ending!
It’s as if we all lived in some 007 nightmare, where everyone’s either a spy or a secret agent. The trouble is, we aren’t all good spy-and-secret-agent material.
Security experts natter happily on, advising you of all the requirements a secure password must meet:
1. It must have six or eight or maybe 12 letters.
2. The letters must be both upper and lower case.
3. Only they can’t all be letters, some must be numbers, or symbols, instead.
4. But in no predictable pattern.
And most important of all:
5. It can’t be a real word!
In other words, it must be completely impossible for a mortal human being to remember.
And of course, you must come up with a new one for every occasion, which makes for – conservative estimate – an infinite number of passwords, because only a fool would use the same one over and over again. A fool who wanted a fighting chance to read her own email.
This is my definition of mental torture. Every time I try to get something done, I might as well be strapped to a board in a North Korean prison. I am being dunked: “What is your VISA card password? NO, that is not it! Try again! NO, again you have failed! Now tell us: what is your User ID?”
Because of course, you must also remember your User ID, whatever that is, for every place, too. So now there’s a second series of meaningless codes to remember.
There is apparently nothing too trivial to need password protection. I was trying to enter a writing contest the other day, but as part of the process, I had to provide an ID # proving my membership in another organization. So I went to that organization’s website and tried to get in. To find out my ID #, I must first log in, providing them with my username as well as password. Of course I haven’t an earthly chance of remembering either one, it’s been a year since the last time. So I tell them my email address and sit back, waiting for the Lifeline they will send me.
Oops! The little red letters tell me, “That email address is already registered.” Yes, you dummies, to me, now let me in!
Eventually, I decide to seek help from a human. I choose “contact us” on the website and find – surprise! – that there is no way to contact them. No way for other humans, at least. Mail would take till the contest is over, and there is no telephone number. Really? Nobody has a telephone any more? I spend the rest of the morning in the attic, digging out an old bill from a shoebox – a bill old enough to have a phone number on the letterhead. I finally make the call, so they can tell me what my own password is. Or user ID. Or whatever it was. I scribble it on the inside of my pencil drawer; I’ll be needing it again next year.
You certainly can’t use something meaningful, like SnuggleBunny. For one thing, I am sure that the IT guys (and gals) have a whole chatroom-full of conversations about the stupid ones. I imagine them as, secure in their electronic hide-outs, they watch me type:
“Check this one out: SnuggleBunny!”
“Yeah, that’s even dumber than her last one. What was it, again?”
“And to think we get paid for this job!”
Most important of all, you mustn’t write them down anywhere, because that’s just asking for trouble. As if a burglar would pause in his pursuits, lugging his pillowcase full of your jewelry, silverware, and flat screen TV out the door, to say, “Oh, wait — I wonder what her passwords are? Here they are, written in her desk, inside the pencil drawer. Good girl — I mean, ‘Muffin-top’!” And he chortles as he stuffs the desk drawer into his bag.
No, the only risk here is me, going into default on my bills because I can’t remember what the stupid bleeping password is for paying them.
By far the most infuriating of these activities has to be trying to pay a bank credit card by computer. They are the most protected of all – to save them, I suppose, from the deadly threat of receiving the money I’m trying to give them. Of course they are right, my money is dangerous – so dangerous I was trying to spare them the hazards of taking it!
Just yesterday, my email contained a warning I am overdue paying a credit card. So I clicked on the link. But of course I must “log in.” And to make sure that it is only me, trying desperately to hack into my own account, they pelt me with layer upon layer of vicious snarling Security Questions. Supposedly you can pick the ones that work for you – except none of them do.
My Birth Date: The very security experts who have made all this necessary have also made me far too paranoid to use the real one. Are you kidding? Tom Cruise can make a whole fake identity using just your birth date! So of course I never give my real one… but I can’t remember which fake one I’ve given, either, so I get my own birth date wrong. (Hmm – maybe that’s why no one on Facebook wished me Happy Birthday!)
Mother’s Maiden Name: How many movies and TV shows have you seen where they hacked into somebody’s computer because the password was some variant of a family member’s name? All of them, that’s how many – except for the ones that used birth dates.
Birth Place: I actually tried this, but the computer told me I was wrong.
How can I be wrong about my own birth place? “Were you there?” I want to ask it, but there is no little box for that.
Favorite color? I can never decide.
Name of childhood pet: This is a problem, because we never actually had a pet. If only I’d known I would need one, someday, for bank security questions, I would have thrown that into the list of arguments I used on my parents. As it is, I must settle for the goldfish that never lasted more than a day after coming home in plastic bags of water from the school carnival. But what, oh what did I call them? “Fishie”? Nope. Oh, “Fishy.” Nope!. “Goldie”? Aargh! Three strikes, I’m out.
What’s with this obsessive need for security, anyway? Who’s going to counterfeit my opinions about someone’s moronic comment on CNN? Is someone going to fake being me and NOT be cranky? Who would believe it?
If only somebody would invent a synthetic memory – one that could store and recall all this information perfectly, and never fade, and never let me down. It could hold all my passwords, and user IDs, and remember which bank I had told which favorite color, and everything! Oh, that’s right, they’ve done that already. It’s called “a computer,” and I can’t get into it, because I can’t remember the password!
Judy Epstein would like to answer your emails at alookonthelightside.com, but regrets that she cannot, until she remembers her computer password. Have a nice day!