Forgotten your password? That’ll be the 58th one you’ve not remembered this year, then.
In days of yore, we’re told, people had less leisure time because everything – everything – was a protracted pain in the fundament. Want to clean that smock? Then you’ll have to walk six miles carrying a pail of water back from the village well. And that’s before you’ve tackled the laundering process itself, which consists of three hours laboriously scrubbing your soiled garment against a washboard and wringing it through a mangle. By the time you’ve finished, it’s bedtime. Did you remember to clean your pyjamas? No. Back to the village well for you, then.
No wonder the people in medieval woodcuts look so miserable, even when they aren’t being cleft in twain by knights or dropping dead in a flurry of popping buboes. And oh how we modernites love to chortle at their unsophisticated lives. DARK AGE LOSERS PROBLY USED TURNIPS FOR IPHONES LOL!!!!
But in many ways, the rustic serf of yesteryear had a better quality of life than the skinbag-about-town of space year 2010. Computers have freed us from hours of drudgery with one hand, but introduced an equal amount of slightly different drudgery with the other. No matter how advanced civilisation becomes, there’s an unyielding quota of drudgery lurking at the core that can never be completely eradicated.
These days it’s commonplace to do everything online, from designing the layout of your kitchen to locating a stranger prepared to kill and eat you for mutual sexual gratification. Tasks that would have taken years to organise and achieve can now be accomplished in the blink of an icon. Or would be, if you could remember your password. But you can’t remember your password. You can’t remember it because you chose it so very long, long ago – maybe three days afore. In the intervening period you’ve had to dream up another six passwords for another six websites, programs or email addresses.
In this age of rampant identity theft, where it’s just a matter of time before someone works out a way to steal your reflection in the mirror and use it to commit serial bigamy in an alternate dimension, we’re told only a maniac would use the same password for everything. But passwords used to be for speakeasy owners or spies. Once upon a time, you weren’t the sort of person who had to commit hundreds of passwords to memory. Now you are. Part of your identity’s been stolen anyway.
In the meantime: you need a new password. One as individual as a snowflake. And as beautiful, too. Having demanded a brand new password from you for the 28th time this month, His Lordship Your Computer proceeds to snootily critique your efforts. Certain attempts he will disqualify immediately, without even passing judgment. Less than six letters? No numbers? Access denied. This is a complex parlour game, OK? There are rules. So start again. And this time: no recognisable words. No punctuation marks. No hesitation, deviation or repetition. Go.
Pass the qualifying round and it gets worse. Most modern password entrance exams grade each entry as you type, presenting you with an instant one-word review of your efforts. Suppose you glance around your desk and pick the first thing you set eyes on, such as a blue pen. You begrudgingly shove a number on the end, creating the password “bluepen1”. You submit this offering to the Digital Emperor, and he derides it as “Weak”.
You can use it if you want. It’s valid. But still; it’s “weak”. So you try again. This time you replace some of the letters with numbers and jumble the capitalisation a bit, like a chef with limited ingredients trying to jazz up an omelette to impress a restaurant critic. The Computerlord pulls a vaguely respectful face. You’ve jumped a grade, to “OK”. You tingle within.
But you can do better. Admit it: you want HRH Computer to actively admire you. You want him to give you a rosette for creating the most carefully constructed password in history, a password that isn’t merely secure, but is beautiful. A password that sings. A password to make angels weep. You will present His Majesty the Mainframe with a masterpiece of encryption, an ornate lexicographic sonata – a creation whose breathtakingly impressive elegance is magnified by the heartbreaking know ledge that no human other than yourself will ever set eyes upon it. This is your private cryptographic poem, your encoded love letter to the machine. Better be good.
So you take bold made-up words, weave them with numbers, stud the souffle with spicy CaPiTaLs and garnish it with a random string of characters carefully chosen for their memorable unmemorableness. You’ve performed reverse cryptanalysis; been a one-man Enigma machine. And your offering pleases God. He deems it “Very Strong”: his highest accolade.
Still glowing, you try out your hand-crafted key for the first time, typing it into the lock. With a soft click, the mechanism turns. Access granted. You are now part of the smocklaundry.com community. How many of your smocks need laundering? When would you like them returned? No problem. Thanks for your custom. Farewell.
Three weeks later your smocks are returned, late and still plastered with hideous stains. You revisit smocklaundry. com to protest. But you can’t remember your password. You can’t remember it because you chose it so very long, long ago – maybe three weeks afore. And in the intervening period you’ve had to dream up another 42 passwords for another 42 websites, programs or email addresses.
Your beautiful password is dead. It was simply too complex and too damned exquisite to live in your humdrum world, your humdrum mind. Now you must face the ignominy of clicking the password reset button for the 58th time this year. And as you trudge dolefully toward your inbox, waiting for the help letter to arrive, the cruel laughter of His Computerised Majesty rings in your ears. You have failed, human. You have failed.