Luskin: Gimme Seltzer

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(HOST)  Writer and commentator Deborah Luskin can’t tell if she’s suffering mid-life memory loss – or if her brain is simply filled to capacity with passwords and PIN numbers.

(LUSKIN)  All I wanted to do was reorder a canister of CO2 for my seltzer-maker –  a small, kitchen appliance that keeps me in carbonated water without me having to lug heavy bottles of the stuff home from the grocery store, or haul the empties back for redemption. It’s a pretty sweet deal that allows me to drink my own well water and have my bubbles, too.
I’d ordered replacement canisters of gas before, but it had probably been more than a year.  In that intervening time, I’d made other on-line purchases, from theater tickets to airfare.  Each time, I’d had to create a user name and password.  At first, I used the same one, which isn’t so good for security, but it suits my middle-aged brain.  Over time, the parameters for passwords changed.  Some required six letters, some eight.  Some required both numbers and letters.  Some were case sensitive.
It became clear, I’d have to start writing them down.  I told myself that short-term memory loss is a normal part of aging, just deal. But sometimes I’m convinced it has nothing to do with middle age and everything in the world to do with password overload.
That morning, I was unwilling to thumb through my codebook, so I picked up the phone and called in my order.  It was a relief – almost like walking into a store.  Not just the vocal contact with Jason, who was both helpful and polite, but the simplicity of telling him what it was I wanted, and giving him my sixteen-digit credit card number, the three-digit security code, my zip code, and the date the card expired.
While I had my credit card out, I decided to purchase a special headset for the voice-recognition software I use in an effort to save my hands from further repetitive stress injury.  I’d been planning to make this one-time purchase for a while, and I placed the item in my shopping cart. But I couldn’t check out unless I created a user account and logged on.
I’d just recently started banking on-line, and paying most of my bills that way.  I now had user names and passwords for my bank account, my credit card and my telephones, both landline and mobile.  These were accounts that seemed worth protecting.  But demanding a password to walk into a virtual store seemed absurd, so I virtually stormed out.
I know that on-line vendors would probably tell me that user accounts are a way to protect sensitive financial information.  I suspect it has more to do with culling valuable consumer information. Not all on-line stores require customers to create user accounts.
With so many different user names and PINS, I doubt I’m the only one who posts her passwords conveniently next to her computer.  But there’s got to be a better way.  Keeping so many passwords straight could drive a person to drink – I’ll have another glass of seltzer, please.

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