You MUST Remember This:

Passwords in Contemporary Computer Culture

by Jeremy Douglass
a lecture given during the 18th annual Pomona College Alumni Symposium,
"Memory, Memoir and Madeleines," held in Claremont, California on April 27-28, 2007.

The original video, including an introduction by Paul Saint-Amour and a question-and-answer session, is available from the Pomona symposium website.




To embed:

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What you write every day, but cannot read; what you know, but must not tell: ******. A password.

Memorizing passwords is a cultural practice vital to living in our networked society. Every day people must remember more, entering them over phones, by garage doors, at ATMs, and most of all into computers. If networked computers form our vast external memory, then passwords are their irreducible human element: the only thing you MUST remember.

Just as older password practices such as the spoken "shibboleth" reflected deep cultural constructions of identity through language and tribe, digital passwords define contemporary identity through performing the memorable: password creators are enjoined to be original and their responses are often tied to some authentic definition of self. When confronted anew with a forgotten login screen, the user asks herself "what password *would* I have chosen?" - that is: "Who am I? And who was I?"