Usernames, passwords, security questions… waterboarding-like ordeals

My years of secondary school were spent in the fertile fields and faded splendor of an East Cork estate.

The program for each day was marked by the ringing of the bells and the shrill trilling of the referee’s whistles. The bells announced the beginning and end of indoor activities, while the whistles told us to head outside to eat, study, or pray.

This was long before the mobile phone era; in fact, it was before the age of mass availability and use of the telephone. There was one college-wide unit catering to over 100 students, a cloister, and a full catering, cleaning, and teaching staff.

The college phone was in a small kiosk-like room off the main entrance hall. The big bell was attached to the wall in front of the kiosk. Each priest had his own code. When a call or visit came for the prior, the bell was rung once; the dean was summoned by two dongs and so on.

A student from the Donegal wilderness viewed these sounds and their purposes as an attack on his freedom.

“This place is nothing but bells and whistles,” he declared one September evening as trills and dongs echoed through the corridors and grounds.

The devices made life easier for those trying to maintain order in a world populated by 100 teenage boys crammed into a relatively small space.

Maintaining order in the chaos takes a lot of human energy. Over the centuries, the notion that mankind’s destiny was to bring order to the chaos of nature became an article of faith.

However, as climate change and the threat of nuclear annihilation prove, our definitions of order and chaos are quite perverse. As the entire planetary ecosystem collapses, it has become clear that humans are the primary cause of disorder and chaos.

That’s all for another day. I want to talk about a relatively recent attempt at ordering the world that is far more complex than the frills of my youth.

I’m talking about IT, computers and their role in the disintegration of rational people.

This technology should make life easier.

Thanks to his ingenuity, we no longer have to sit around with a pencil and paper trying to figure out how long it would take for a faucet that flows two fluid ounces per minute to fill a 40-gallon bath that has the stopper draining one and a half fluid ounces per minute Minute. The computer solves the puzzle in no time.

But what it simplifies with a swipe of the keyboard, complicates it with another. Once this technology pulls you in, you land in a minefield of usernames, passwords, and security questions where one wrong move can lock you out of your life.

Every program, website and app requires you to log in with a username and password. They seem to know if you’ve used the name and password before, forcing you to use others and changing them all frequently.

I recently changed my computer and all the apps, websites and programs that once recognized me now had no idea who I was.

It was a surreal experience; It was like waking up in the valley of darkness, in a parallel universe where my family, friends and neighbors no longer recognized me.

I could barely remember any of my passwords. Did I use my date of birth? Was it a combination of mine and the current wife’s? Did I use upper or lower case?

For the usernames, I wasn’t sure if I used my full name. Did I put a period in the middle or write it backwards? I began to doubt my existence.

When it came to security questions, I found myself in a different chamber of horrors. Did I use my mother’s maiden name or my mother-in-law’s? Then the computer wanted to know the make and model of my first car and dog. I almost ripped my teeth remembering if I put the two dots over the ‘e’ in Citroen and described the dog as a German Shepherd or a Collie?

To add to the confusion, I have two new women in my life, Céile the dog and Alexa, a voice-activated know-it-all who can tell me how far Bhutan is and give me the weather forecast for Bodyke.

During my stay in the Valley of Darkness, I was so upset that I yelled at Céile to bring me the lunchtime headlines on RTÉ 1 and threatened Alexa with a whole day in a cage if she didn’t get off the good couch.

There’s a lot to be said for those long-gone, off-the-grid days with their bells and whistles. Usernames, passwords, security questions… waterboarding-like ordeals

Fry Electronics Team

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