What’s the magic word?

THEY used to say you could count a man’s worries by the keys that he carries.

Now you just count his passwords.

I never knew I had so much to protect. When it was keys I only ever had one, and that was for the car. I didn’t even own a house key.

Now I have passwords, and if passwords were keys (in a way I suppose they are) then I’d be so weighed down I couldn’t even crawl out of the house.

I didn’t know I had so much that needed passwords. I have bank accounts, email accounts, accounts with people who have sold me stuff and with people who might sell me stuff; with organisations in which I have shown some mild interest and some that are important to my work.

I buy stuff from e-bay occasionally, and Amazon books and I have passwords for them, too.

And I’m not alone. The entire human race is chained up by passwords. One day the internet system is going to collapse and it’ll be the number of passwords flying around the world that will do it.

Not the ones people use – there’s probably no more of them than there are people on the planet.

The ones that will choke the system are the ones people forget. They’re out there somewhere, bimbling through technospace waiting for someone to discover them.

I don’t know the solution. I don’t like to have just one password, which I’d never forget, because if anyone ever finds out what it is, they’ll be able to infiltrate my life in so many dangerous ways that I’ll have to kill them – if I can find them.

But having more than one password is a nightmare. You can’t write them down because the rules don’t allow that. You have to remember them.


I have chosen so many passwords — my wife’s maiden name, the first school I went to, the first pet I had, the Latin name of the iris, the name I got called at school because they reckoned I had short legs — that if I did write them down I’d need a book the size of a bible.

Not because I use them all – because I forget them all. Like I said, I buy stuff on e-bay sometimes. arely, but I do. Maybe 12 times in the past five years. So, naturally, I have registered 12 times… because I can’t remember my password from one visit to the next. And every new registration requires a new password.

I’m running out. Now I’ve used up all the significant ones (first son’s name; first daughter’s name; favourite band; town I was born in) I’m reduced to all the insignificant ones (diseases of the feet; former employers; vegetables I don’t much fancy). If I can’t remember the other ones – how am I supposed to remember these!

Crazy really that we’re so paranoid about someone getting into our electronic mailboxes, when our standing-on-a-post-by-the-gate mailboxes are available for the easy attention of every thief from The Strand to Stradroke Island and we don’t seem to care about that.

Probably because all that gets delivered to the door now is junk mail. And bills. And if anyone stole them they’d be doing us a favour.

The heart of the problem is that we get sucked into using all these electronic services that we don’t need, and we allow the world’s increasing paranoia to infect us.

I am rebelling. I am going back into my computer and I’m going to reset all my passwords with one word, which will be common to everything, and I’m going to write it down in my address book in a cunning way so no one will know what it is.

All I have to do is remember the password to get into my computer and I’ll be home and hosed.