What We Talk About When We Talk About Passwords

I work at Google. That said, this is a personal piece; the opinions & ideas here are my own, not those of my employer. 

It is just after six p.m. and I am home from work. The sky is still bright, a clear transparent blue behind fast moving fluffy clouds. The late afternoon or early evening light is clear and bright too after a rainshower that drenched the car just as I stopped at the gas station to refill the tank. I am upstairs sitting at my desk facing the window looking out, and wondering if there will be a rainbow. I open my laptop, log out of my work account, and log in to my personal account.

Some months ago I changed my password. This was in response to some generalized security breach or other; I don’t remember which. But as I was choosing my new password, I thought about what it should be.

Something I’d remember.

Something not like other passwords I’d used.

Something not easily guessable.

Every time we choose a password, we attempt to describe our own minds. Consciously or not, we attend not just to what am I thinking about today, but what will I think about tomorrow, what will help me remember this code I’m creating, what will I associate with this thing I’m trying to log in to. Even if we open up an app that generates a supposedly random sequence of letters and numbers and punctuation (and don’t you wonder about the security and privacy on an app like that?), the choice to do so still reflects something about us.

In choosing a password, I think we create a metaphorical thumbprint of the way we think, what matters to us.

In spy movies and thrillers, there’s so often a moment where the hero or villian needs to get information off of or onto someone else’s computer or phone. They do so by guessing a sequence, hands poised dramatically over the keyboard or screen: a moment, eyes closed, reflecting, considering. What matters to the person whose device they’re hacking? What is a significant birthday, a catchphrase, a city? The hacker’s fingers move, and the target’s life and secrets are spelled out in just eight to ten characters. Access granted.

Of course, real hacking attempts are rarely anything like that. They’re more often like the Target data breach: the target hacked isn’t an individual as such, but a much larger trove of much broader and more general information. Those attempts have little in common with the hacker in a movie, pausing to remember someone’s birthday in hopes of cracking the code.

Some of my own passwords are more complicated than others. Heresy though this may be, there are sites where I just don’t care if my so-called information gets stolen – those are the sites which don’t have much information to begin with. Some of my passwords follow intentional patterns. Some don’t. Some are legacies, leftovers from old thoughts, old ideas. Some are so clever I can’t remember them, and have to use the ‘forgot password’ link each and every time I log in.

But this time… when I was resetting the password on my computer, which is a pretty basic and fundamental thing, I thought harder about it. I wanted a password distinct from my own patterns, memorable to me, meaningless to anyone else.

And so I took a deep breath, and chose something in honor of my Dad, who first taught me about computers – and who these days may or may not remember that.


We Are Ian #love

The last time things were this shit … the world threw an enormous dance party.

Last Saturday I went to see We Are Ian at the Perth Fringe Festival. This morning I listened to the news recap of President Trump’s State of the Union speech from last night.

And I thought: there’s a reason I was getting chills in the theater when the show started; there’s a reason electronic dance music still feels like home. I remember all the kids in florescent body paint dancing under purple black light, and watching the patterns glow sticks make through a crowd; I remember sharing hugs with strangers; I remember what it felt like to feel so, so safe and the sense that we were all in it together.

Of course, it’s easy to say I was only seventeen or twenty years old and horrifyingly naive. It’s easy to say it was all fueled by drugs (although for some of us it wasn’t). It’s easy to say it was just a phase, just a moment, just a passing thing.

But it was powerful and beautiful, and it was defined by energy and movement and an appreciation of joy. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but it also wasn’t caught up in who was what. If you were there for the music, if you smiled at a stranger … that was enough.

I remember.


Maybe related, or maybe not: before vacation, I’d been thinking that I was pretty tired of politics, and identity considerations, and the news in general, and I was inclined to just stick my fingers in my ears and read sci-fi novels about spaceships, because isn’t that cheerfuller. Now, with a little more energy, and a little less burnout:

1. I’m going to aim to drive my car as calmly and politely as the people in Western Australia do. Wow. It’s impressive, and it makes life nicer.
2. I’m going to do my best to encourage quiet people to speak when they want to, and louder people to give them a chance.
3. I’m going to own up to joy – and support other people in finding, pursuing, & noticing their joy too. It’s so easy to get caught up in angst. There isn’t really enough physical space for all the people in the Bay Area to fit comfortably, at least given current building & infrastructure; work moves too fast for most people to feel like they have space and a chance to breathe; traffic is awful; etc etc etc. And even when things are good or okay, it’s easy to get caught up in competitive angst. But. It’s also true that there’s an incredible amount of beauty around, both in people and in the world around us. The more we notice it, the better. I’m going to pursue that for myself, and I hope help create an atmosphere where others feel comfortable doing so too.

That is all. Happy Wednesday!

#theater #philosophy #music