Passwords in the Age of Forgetting 1


When we were kids a password was something you said to get into a secret club. Then there was a long period when I can’t recall much mention of passwords. We somehow muddled through life without them, back when we used pens and typewriters.

It was only later in our lives, with our memories well past their prime, that the digital age forced us into using secret passwords again. But not just using them. Thinking them up. And remembering them.

Google’s online security site advises that “Passwords are the first line of defense against cyber criminals.” Notice that’s plural: you’re supposed to choose different passwords for every single online account and service you use.

You may remember that quote about passwords being like underwear: needing to be changed frequently, not shared, etc.


Underwear-like password quote by vlogger Chris Pirillo

Underwear-like password quote by vlogger Chris Pirillo

Now you need to do that many times, accumulating many eminently forgettable passwords.

I don’t even like to create passwords. I hate being told to “think of something only you could know” when I know that later I’ll have no idea what I was thinking at the time. Even when the robot prompts me. With a hint that I created.

Being of a certain age I always have pen and paper handy, so yes, I write down my passwords. No, not on a post-it stuck to my computer screen for all to see. I take security measures and hide that little piece of paper. And then forget where I hid it.

So I end up at a purgatorial place called Forgot Your Password? Only to find out that a forgotten and unfindable password is not the security disaster it was made out to be. A new one is in my inbox from someone called Donotreply before I can say Oh, no, I forgot another @&#%! password!

I certainly have forgotten a few things over the years, and not just passwords. But I do remember the opening monologue of a Seinfeld episode about being on a plane that left late and the pilot announcing that he’ll make up time by flying faster. Like Jerry, I want to know why pilots don’t just go as fast as they can all the time? And why we have to strain our brains remembering passwords if they’re so easy to replace?

Because nothing about passwords is fun and easy for My New Old Self. Hence my excitement upon hearing Google’s security chief proclaim that “Passwords are dead.”

The demise of the password should mean we can all stop worrying about cyber-criminals lurking in the garden when we call our dogs. This is because many people our age apparently use pets’ names as passwords. And continue to do so, against strong advice to ditch these ancient and risky passwords and create strong and long new ones, brimming with digits and symbols, in lower and upper case.

The news that passwords will soon be passé comes, ironically, right when I have finally discovered the secret to unforgettable passwords. The best password, especially for those of a forgetful age, isn’t a word at all, but a phrase or sentence. Which sticks in your head a lot better than a mishmash of random letters, numbers and punctuation marks.

My new pass-sentence is so memorable I don’t have to write it down. Which is good because if I did I’d have to write it internet style, without spaces between the words. Rendering it unreadable, at least at a glance from my aging eyes.

Given the coinciding of the irksome password era with my era of forgetfulness, the dawning of the post-password era comes as a relief. However, I have found that reports of the password’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

It seems that we are entering the post-single-password era, through a new security system called “two-factor authentication”. Which seems a rather misleading name because, along with two things like phone notification or fingerprint ID – or eventually brain scanning – you  still need a third thing. A “password-like” piece of information. Which you will need to remember.

Perhaps this snag can be overridden by outsourcing digital security to a Password Manager. This is someone – some robot – who will “generate super long, secure and random passwords for all of your online services and store them in a secure vault, unlocked by one master password you create”. But before you get too excited about this seemingly recall-free option via that nifty secret vault, please note the warning: “Just don’t lose, forget or leak the master password.”



One comment on “Passwords in the Age of Forgetting

  1. Reply Helga Reichow Aug 10,2014 1:30 pm

    Sitting here in Senzig enjoying Peace and quiet,No Guest at the Moment I remembered your Blog. No solutions to passwords, I like your text and I think I do everything what I shouldn’t do with passwords and maybe that helps.

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