Remembering

We live in an amazing maze of usernames and passwords. It seems that every piece of software on the computer wants a unique username and password. I have number codes for my bank card, for locks on doors, for my phone, and several other devices. Usually I do pretty well with such things. I have my standards that i use. But there are all kinds of techniques that are employed to keep us from having standards. I use code devices that require 4, 5 or 6 digits. Some of them allow me to set the codes. Others are for more general use and have the codes set by someone else. Some computer passwords require the use of both upper and lower case characters. Some require the use of numbers and/or special characters. Some do not allow the use of certain characters.

Some days I wonder how much of my brain is occupied with codes and passwords and how much more productive I might be if I didn’t have to memories them.

My new phone promised to move beyond all of the codes and passwords with biometric identification. It has a sensor that learns to read and then memorizes finger prints. It works fairly well. But every time the software is upgraded I have to re-enter a six digit numeric code before the fingerprint reader will work. Anyone who knows that code can bypass all of the finger identification applications on the phone.

The security systems on our phones work well enough that law enforcement agencies have had trouble accessing evidence that is stored on cell phones. There have been court cases and there will be more as we seek an appropriate balance of privacy and security.

There was a day, a few years ago, when I went to work feeling as if I was coming down with the flu. I take the flu shot every year, but that particular day, I was feeling feverish and not on top of my game. I sat down to my computer and I couldn’t remember the password. This is a different computer than I use at home for my blog. I had written my blog earlier in the day and had logged on successfully, but the computer at work stumped me. I entered what I though was my password, and it wouldn’t let me in. I was feeling bad enough already that I decided that it wasn’t a day to accomplish anything so I went home, went to bed, slept for 4 hours and when I got up, I was thinking clearly and when I returned to work the next day I remembered the password and went on with my life.

The indigent bothered me, however, and later, when I was at my doctor’s office for a routine check-up, I reported it to the doctor. My doctor had previously been my mother’s doctor and she knew about the mini-strokes that my mother experienced and some of the brain fog and confusion that would sweep over her. A few extra tests were ordered and I received firm instructions that if I experience a similar incident in the future I should take an aspirin and immediately get to the emergency room. There has been no repeat of the experience.

It did, however, get me to thinking. There is a whole lot in my life that is based on my memory. And human memory is imperfect and subject to being altered by all kinds of diseases. We used to call it senility, but these days dementia is the preferred description. And we know that there are many different kinds of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease has received a lot of attention and we have witnessed some pretty dramatic cases of how that disease alters relationships. It can be a deep tragedy. But there are other diseases of the brain that affect memory and the ability to recall.

Some of the people who I visit who are experiencing dementia don’t experience much distress. Not long ago I visited a man who had considerable memory problems. I don’t know what the formal diagnosis for his memory difficulties was, but his family had previously commented to me about it. At any rate, he had also received a devastating cancer diagnosis and been given the prediction of a short timeline for his life. When I visited him, he was in a cheerful mood and when I asked him how things were going, he said, “Great!” He seemed to have forgotten every bit of bad news that the oncologist had given to him and his wife. Subsequent visits were similar. To the end of his life he didn’t seem to have any distress about his illness at all. The dementia seemed to allow his brain to focus on other things than his illness.

I have, however, visited with people who were equally distressed about memory problems. A couple of decades ago I visited a man who had been a brilliant attorney. He was suffering from the early stages of dementia. In his bedroom there was a wall of mirrored closet doors. He showed me that he had covered those mirrors with hundreds of sticky notes on which he had written the names of people, important events in his life, cases he had tried, places he had visited and other notes. He was desperately trying to organize the notes into a meaningful pattern. The task was frustrating him to tears. He just couldn’t get his memories sorted out and he was deeply aware of it. As his illness progressed, so did his frustration. He was frequently angry and visibly distressed for most of the rest of his life.

Who knows how aging will play out for me? There are things that are more important for me to remember than user names and passwords. The birth of our son, the day our daughter came into our family, the arrival of our grandchildren - there are pivotal life events that I treasure and recall with great pleasure. To forget them would be incredibly sad.

So, when I get to the point where I can’t remember, I want to let go of the excess user names and passwords first. I can get by without being able to access customer support on a piece of software. I probably can get by without being able to log onto a device. And, who knows, maybe by that time they’ll abandon the use of user names and passwords all together and use some other way of determining our identity.

That’s a future worth anticipating.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!