Reader beware: the following words are sure to bring a chill to your spine. Password. Username. Login ID. Security Question. Pin.
Have you turned on the lights and grabbed your teddy bear yet? Yes, these are frightening words. Over the years, we have developed a phobia of all things password protected. And for good reason.
In today’s electronic world, we need passwords for online banking, PayPal, eBay, Facebook, shopping sites, travel sites and messaging our doctors. We have numerical codes and PINs for ATMs, debit cards, garage doors, bike locks, smart phones, dumb phones and voicemail. Buy a new device or shop at a new site, and inevitably you’ll be asked to sign up, sign in, sign on or sign something using a secret combination of words and numbers known by no other living soul.
Hard as we try to make our passwords memorable and numeric codes consistent, it is impossible. More often then not we get locked out of our own lives.
One password may be case sensitive. Another may require both letters and numbers. Some may be limited to four digits while others require six. Then we have to remember whether our login name is our email address (which email address?) or our lowercase full names? Did the password get reset because we entered the wrong password too many times? Since when did the rules of baseball get applied to digital access… three wrong password attempts and you’re out?
Experts warn us that using combinations of our birthdates, street addresses, middle names and pets’ names are the easiest codes to crack. (Remember when Jon Stewart interviewed Bill Gates and asked him, in a conspiratorial whisper, “What was the name of your first pet?” The whole world leaned into the screen waiting for the answer so that we could gain access to his virtual life.)
Thus warned, we get really creative and then have to write down our various passwords and access codes on secret scraps of paper that we carefully lose. Why are they lost? Because we live in fear that someone will find them and gain access to our online lives. So we squirrel them away under keyboards, between book pages, in desk drawers, or even on a widget sticky right on the desktop.
But, it doesn’t matter where we stash them, because we can’t find them when we need them. That password on the sticky note? It won’t work with whatever we’re trying to access right now.
Here’s the good news: our kids know all of our access configurations. Can’t remember that Netflix password? No problem. The kids know it.
Here’s the bad news: our kids know all of our access configurations. Can’t remember that Zappos password? Big problem. The kids know it.
For a while, the answer seemed to be a romanticized infatuation with the solution for security favored for every century but the current one: get a lock with a physical key.
Several years ago, that’s what a combined tribunal of policemen, school administrators, and a county coroner told us we should do to secure our liquor cabinets. Like good citizens, we did. There was a physical key to a physical lock installed by a professional called, quaintly, a locksmith.
That’s right. We have a liquor cabinet. It has a lock. There is a key.
If you think about it, that key is like a password. Or a User ID. Or a PIN. It’s the security check that let’s the good guys in and keeps the bad guys out.
It’s a great system, having a physical key. No numbers to remember, no clever password to memorize. Just a key…
A key to keep track of. And now the story again gets frightening because, like our passwords and our screen names and our User IDs and our PINS, we can’t remember where we put that key.
If our kids know where it is, the nightmare continues.