Some twenty-eight years ago, while four digit "Personal Identification Numbers" were new, I remember there being some concern about whether people would be able to remember them. Certainly I used to carry a note of the number of my first chip and PIN card, carefully disguised so that a person who found it would not realise what it was.
The other day I tried to come up with a count of how many passcodes, identification numbers, and passwords I have had to memorise for regular daily use - first the ones I use sufficiently frequently that I have actually memorised them, and then the ones which I still have to write down. The first frightening thing is how many there are, and the second frightening thing is that this number of codes is probably not at all unusual for a person in a white collar or management job.
Between work, bank details, and other important systems, I have successfully memorised the following eleven identifiers
* Three PIN codes with four digits
* Two PIN codes with eight digits
* One numerical identifier with nine digits
* Five passwords consisting of combinations of letters and numbers.
One of two of these, of particular importance, have to be changed and re-memorised every few months. Several of them are part of a multiple-check system, e.g. they can only be used in combination with a particular item.
In addition to this, there are another six numbers and codes of significant importance which I regularly need to use but can get away with writing down or letting computers remember for me.
Of those seventeen codes and identifiers, I think I have used at least nine so far today, an average of twice each, and what's more that is probably signficantly lower than my normal weekday average use of these codes.
I doubt if this is terribly unusual among people doing management, professional or other white collar roles in Britain today.
It is nothing short of amazing what the human brain can do, and come to do without even thinking about it. Indeed, if I did have to stop and think when using Chip and Pin to buy something, using the security checks which I routinely have to complete to get into the building where I work, or log onto any of the computer systems I use, it would probably be far harder.
If you'd told me back in 1984 that in less than thirty years I would routinely expect to have to use nearly twenty codes and identifiers, many of them much more complex than four digits, I'd probably have been horrified. Fortunately the increased number of codes and security checks has increased gradually over that time so it has been possible to acclimatise to it.
I don't see things getting easier any time soon, as increasing threats of cyber-crime will mean that we have to be ever more cautious. Perhaps in my children's lifetime, reliable and secure DNA readers will make it possible to instantly prove who they are without having to memorise large numbers of security codes. But I'm not going to hold my breath.
I'd be interested to hear from any reader of this blog how easy or oppressive they find coping with all the numbers and codes they have to memorise.