In Memoriam: Forgetting Your Password


They control the faces, the brain bava. That’s what Apple, Google and Microsoft decreed earlier this month when they announced they would expand their support for the FIDO Alliance industry group’s fight to replace the billions of Internet-based password logins for smartphone-based passwords, which are unlocked using your PIN, fingerprint, or face. The announcement of the three browser giants, made on World Password Day (who could forget?), Marks what Microsoft calls a “monumental step towards a world without passwords.” It is also a monumental victory for your face. So approach a mirror and kiss the cup: it blows, belches, blinks and can soon open the universe.

The FIDO Alliance wants to completely remove our stupid brains from authentication. With good reason. The most common passwords in the world are yet 123456, 123456789, qwerty and password. The most common animal as a password is the monkey; we love to remember how little we have evolved. If we are not hacked with weak passwords, we will be blocked with strong passwords that we do not remember. According to some estimates, four out of five of us have forgotten at least one password in the last 90 days, and a quarter of us have lost a password at least once a day.

But maybe our brains are ready to fail. Among apps, subscriptions, banks, and email accounts, the average person has about 100 passwords. On the other hand, the average person has about one face, and is unforgettable (just look at you!) And mostly impenetrable. A passwordless world is a more secure world. But it is a world with fewer reminders that we forget. And let’s not forget that oblivion reminds us who we are.

(Disclosure: I don’t have a password manager, which prevents me from remembering your passwords. This is a source of contempt and anger from both my wife and my employer, who has several essential guides and warning about why you should. must have a password manager and which one you should get. WIRED posting an ode to forget your password is like a locksmith preaching to his customers why they should replace their front door with pearl curtains. I speak exclusively of the psychic benefits of oblivion, not of the benefits of cybersecurity, of which there are almost none.)

After all, but for passwords, forgetting is almost forgotten online. A long time ago we mixed our brains with Google and burned our past on social media and in the cloud, where disturbing memories can resurface at will or against our snapshot. (Kate Eichorn writes about it in her book The end of oblivion.) We also travel through an Internet that is almost completely free of friction. We search, share, spend, and call strangers without an algorithmic superego asking, “Are you sure?” Throughout this omnipotent slide, there are rare moments that we do not know, or are unable to know or remember, where we face our limitations, our humanity. That’s why one of the most persistent questions on the Internet is also one of the most challenging: Have you forgotten your password?

Yes, Hulu. Yes, Bandcamp. Yes, New York News. You have stopped my whimsical journey. I lost my password again, because I lost my password before. You see, with all my passwords, I oscillate from uppercase to lowercase like the profile of AIM friends of a seventh grader around 2004. I scatter random numbers and special characters in the middle of words. I never stop until my password security meter turns green and tells me I’m “strong.” But the stronger the magic words, the harder it will be to remember them.

The existential irony is that I am often creating new passwords with the recommended level of “entropy” (i.e., unpredictability) while in a state of entropy. I want to look hateful SNL now. I want this recipe now. So, like a monkey, the touch of my paw is refreshed until the password reset link appears in my inbox. Then, instead of taking the opportunity to create a completely new password, to create a new portal where I want to be, in my state of fatigue, I usually change two or three characters of what I thought my old password was, almost randomly, daring to remember the settings whenever it was time to log back in. Or to write it. Or to get a password manager. I never do. And a week, a month or two later, the cycle repeats itself. Each time, the strength of my password is my weakness. Increasingly, the security of my password aggravates my insecurity about my inability to grow. This is the samsara of cybersecurity. It’s outrageous, it’s humiliating, it’s one of the only places online where we have to come to terms with ourselves.

Nirvana will not be found when you sign in with your face without friction. While it will make us more secure, releasing passwords will also further chain us into our way of always being connected and connected. Nirvana will sometimes find itself completely abandoning logins, something that forgetting leads you to do. As the poet Kay Ryan writes about oblivion, “the lack of memory does not make one stupid; it could be argued that it makes it free ” password for a reason, choose to go back to LinkedIn or Grubhub another day, or never, and instead snake somewhere else, maybe to a site that doesn’t know the secrets I’ve forgotten.



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