Locked out

‘Failed. You have one more attempt.’ And then what? I started to panic. The barman glanced at me. Does he think I’ve stolen this card? I felt guilty, even though I had nothing to feel guilty about, other than a general inability to master the simplest of tasks in modern life. Had I misremembered my PIN or had I mistyped it? Who knows? I certainly didn’t. There was now a queue of increasingly impatient people behind me at the bar. They wanted their drinks and weren’t in the slightest bit forgiving of the forgetful old man who was holding them up. Do I try again and risk my card being eaten up by the machine? I lost my nerve and called to my wife to bail out her inept husband. She’s done it before.

There’s a chilling new documentary, Phantom Parrot, about a man who refused to share his PIN with the anti-terrorist police at Heathrow. He was arrested and convicted of terrorism, even though everyone knew he wasn’t a terrorist. His only crime was to refuse to share his PIN and now he’s categorised as a terrorist for the rest of his life. God knows what would happen to me if they asked for my PIN and I couldn’t remember it.

It’s the burden of our generation to find ourselves in a blizzard of passwords just when our memories are beginning to fade. I’ve got 299 log-ins, passwords, account numbers and memorable addresses to remember. 299! When did life get so complicated? Undoubtedly, some relate to apps I no longer need. Eva’s Pups at Play in Pennsylvania, for example. What on earth possessed me to sign up for Eva’s Pups at Play in Pennsylvania? Let alone create a password for it.

Each password is supposed to be unique, to have capital and lower case letters, special characters and mustn’t be a word that I might have a cat in hell’s chance of remembering. 299 different passwords! The human brain is only capable of recalling a sequence of 7 or so randomly ordered items or chunks (which could be letters, digits, or words) and that’s a normal brain rather than a befuddled one like mine. The head of CAGE says that his laptop password contains 40 characters and that his colleagues sometimes laugh if he takes two or three goes before he remembers them all. If I had a password that long I could kiss goodbye to ever getting into my laptop.

One day passwords will be a quaint thing of the past. Everything will be face, voice or fingerprint recognition. But this, too, can be problematic. When I came out of hospital with two black eyes and a big scar across the top of my head my iPhone took one look at me and said ‘I don’t know who you are.’ Assuming it was in criminal hands, it shut down and flatly refused to cooperate.

I had been excluded from my own digital world.