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Traumas of modern living, part 1.

Remember, remember
The fifth of November

Imagine if you will, the scenario: the quiet calm of the home office is shattered by screams and curses from the next room. Has a mad axe-wielding murderer leapt through the window wreaking havoc on my nearest and dearest?

No, it turns out only to be the husband who is trying, yet again, to conduct a transaction on one of a gazillion websites that each requires security information in a slightly different format. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have had to press the ‘Forgotten Username’ or/and ‘Forgotten Password’ buttons.

Then of course, you remember the password just as you are re-setting it and, naturally, the wretched website rarely lets you pick the same one again. So you have to think of something else, only to forget it again next time should this be a website you rarely have to access.

There’s a proverb that says something about nothing truly beautiful being without a certain painful price and that, I have to say, is true of the world-wide-web. The beauty of the internet’s ease and convenience is bought at a terrible cost to one’s sanity and – certainly in my case – laptop keyboard.

The online security guy at the industry conference in Malta way back in 2007 frightened the bejayzus out of his audience with tales of online security – or lack of it – and with good reason. So we all pay attention to the terrible tales of hacked accounts and stolen identities and faithfully try to differentiate our passwords. But then we run into the traumas of not being able to remember the passwords or key questions or whatever security link you get asked at sign up.

A press release about the results of a survey into this issue hit my inbox the other day: apparently more than three quarters of us use our birthdays, our children’s names, the numbers 1234 and the word ‘password’ as our password-protected high-security measures to stop criminals robbing us blind and stealing everything we have. According to the survey, it would take a criminal mind a matter of seconds to hack into most of our sensitive information.

The release then suggested that we make up a word – a separate word for each website we ever access mind – and then substitute numbers for some of the letters, some of which ought apparently to be in capitals. Blimey. I, for one, am never going to be able to remember all that for the various websites or phone-operated accounts that the world seems to demand I have.

There’s a reason that so many of us plump for simple to remember passwords – it’s because they are simple to remember.

Technology was supposed to make our lives easier and in so, so many ways it does. But sometimes, occasionally, I yearn for the days when I could just pop into the local gas board shop (remember those days?) with my bill and a chequebook. At least then all I had to remember was my name and where I lived and even if I’d forgotten them I had the bill to remind me.

Information overload is becoming a real issue these days; so, apparently, is the amount of digital information that gets lost, stolen or strayed when we change phones, computer servers or PCs.

It is just me that feels this way? Tell me it’s not just me. Maybe it is me. Maybe I just need a holiday. Which is why the website will be a little light on news and blogs over the next 10 days. Normal (ish) service will be resumed when I get back.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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