Sunday, May 4, 2008

How Many Passwords Must a Man Write Down?

Have you ever counted up all the different passwords you have in your life? I've been wondering what would happen to me if I ever get selective (or total) amnesia and forget all of my passwords. Would I be able to function at all?

I have passwords for my work email, work network login, two personal email accounts, two different blogs, three to six different social networking sites (depending on how you define them), three separate bank accounts, a work circulation system, four different listservs, and personal web accounts at the American Library Association, the USTA, Netflix, Ebay, Vonage, CA Security, TiVo, Chase, TurboTax, Papa Johns, Salon letters, and Flickr.

If you throw in my various PINs, such as two bank cards, work voicemail, home voicemail, cell phone voicemail, and two separate library card accounts, that amounts to 33 separate logins. And that's just the ones that I can remember off the top of my head.

Of course, I don't have 33 separate passwords. My most important accounts, like my email accounts and my work network login, have their own unique password. But my secondary-level passwords get multiple use. There's no reason, for example, why I can't use the same password for Netflix that I use for Vonage or TiVo. So I might have about 5 or 6 different passwords that I rotate around. I will often have one password for an entire category, so that, for example, all my social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook, and Goodreads) have the same password.

The logins that I use everyday are easy to remember, but there are other ones that I will never, ever take the time to memorize. For example, my Papa John's password is one of those randomly assigned combination of letters and numbers that I can't change. So when I order a pizza, which I do every few months or so, I have to log into my email account and find the saved message from Papa John's that tells me what my password is. That's two logins (and about $20) for one pizza order. (I did once use the phrase "biteme" as a password for pizza site that wouldn't let me view their menu without logging in first. That's how I stick it to the man.)

I'm sure, if given enough time, I could think of some clever insight about passwords and life in the 21st century that wouldn't just make me sound like a whiny Luddite, but I've got nothing right now. All my creative energy has been taken up thinking up clever, secure passwords.

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