Sorry. You need a username and a password to access this column. Don’t have them? Tough!

Why is there so much rage on our streets? Look no further than the bitter passwordless

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The Independent Online

At a time when there is much to fear, few to trust, and not a damn thing to believe in, may I hold out a flickering torch of hope. I have struck a symbolic blow. I have said no. En oh – NO! Enough is enough. Enough usernames, enough PINs, but above all enough passwords. Now I expect other victims of the relentless march of online passwords to join me in my campaign. Let’s all say NO TO PASSWORDS.

I have been chafing against the imposition of the password for some time, but the last straw was an invitation to speak at a literary festival on a date and at an hour I could only discover if I “accessed” my “profile” saved under the “mailings icon” on their “authors’ website”. Don’t let the correct use of the apostrophe fool you. Everything else about this invitation is fatuous. “Access” as a verb is a hateful coinage, invented by computer folk to make the process of looking something up sound busy and scientific. In fact, most of what we can be said to “access” is either trivial or filthy. When we do call on the internet to provide a worthwhile service – to find a poem we don’t have in any of our anthologies, for example – we don’t say we are “accessing it”. We don’t “access” Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset. We look for him, and when we’ve found him we read him. If anyone should know that, the organisers of a literary festival should.

And what’s this about a “profile”? Do they mean my name? Do they mean the information I require, such as the date and time they would like me to speak? If so, why don’t they save us all the bother and just tell me? Friday at 4 pm, Mr Jacobson, see you there. Anything further – my age, my shoe size, the state of my teeth – I don’t need to “access my profile” to discover because I already know it.

The assumption is, however, that I have nothing better to do than arse around (indeed that I can’t wait to arse around) locating the “mailing icon” (“icon” being another instance of computerese coined to make a childish activity – the equivalent of colouring in – sound like an adult one) in order to gain entry to a place I have not the slightest desire to visit, let alone “access”, namely the “authors’ website”. But even that isn’t enough. I have to drop whatever else I’m doing, the novel I’m writing, the Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset poem I’m reading, the alms I’m distributing to the needy, and go there “as soon as possible”.

Is there no end to their impertinence? Reader, no, there isn’t. Having chivvied me to go post haste where no grown man or woman could possibly want to go, they then tell me I cannot go there without a username and password. Given that my username turns out to be my actual name I am compelled to wonder why we need the term username at all. Or is “username” set to replace Christian and surname? “Dr Livingstone, I presume.” “That, sir, is my username, yes.”

Which brings us to the password. And with the request for the password comes that sentence from online hell, “If you have forgotten your password, you can reset it by following the link on the log-in page.” Ah reader, how many and how long are the hours we have spent following links to reset a password we see no reason to possess by logging into a log-in page impossible to log into without a password. You want to know why there is so much rage on our streets and unhappiness in our homes? Look no further than the bitter frustration of the passwordless, forever chasing their own tails in pursuit of a key that can only be accessed by the key they’re trying to access.

 

It’s possible there are people who love having passwords because passwords remind them of the games they played in primary school, not letting the girls into the boys’ toilets until they gave the secret watchword, which might have been schopenhauer17 or weewee2, I can’t remember. Or they might love them, as some love putting figures in columns, because they are clerkly by nature. Such people will no doubt have books to keep their passwords – in a little red book for their smartphone passwords, a little blue book for their banking passwords, a little yellow one for adult content and literary festival passwords – and what is more will protect these books from being accessed by the inquisitive by assigning them each a password.

I have a book in which I write usernames, PINs and passwords but never know where I’ve put it. Since I’m not such a fool as to bank online I don’t have any precious secrets in this book and so don’t care who reads it. There is nothing I don’t want anyone else to read in the aforementioned “profile” of me either, in which case why do I need a password? In order that no one should have a better idea of the time and day I’m speaking than I do? As for my shoe size, it’s a 10, G fitting.

I voiced my objection to all this, anyway. “Life’s too damned short for passwords,” I emailed the person who’d invited me, no matter that she’d asked me to communicate any problems via, of course, their authors’ website. She emailed back, explaining how I could get a new password, and telling me the festival was too busy to deal with individual authors except online, though she would be pleased to “resolve the issue on the phone”. So that would have been two emails and a phone call to tell me what she could have told me in the first place in a single line had she not been too busy to do so.

I haven’t made the call. There is no “issue” to “resolve”. I don’t want a password to speak at a literary festival, that’s all. And I don’t want to see a literary festival in snivelling thrall to the techno-inanities of nerdspeak. It’s time to stand up and be counted. Let’s all access the no icon.

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