FX has a new limited series about the hunt for the Unabomber, Theodore John Kaczynski. I didn’t pay much attention to the story when it was going on; I just thought it was one more Harvard-grad-turns-serial-killer episode, and that was that. I certainly didn’t pay attention to his “manifesto.” The series, however, enlightened me. As I understand it, Ted believed that technology was destroying society, making us all slaves to it, and taking the joy out of life. I have yet to see how blowing people up addressed this problem, but then he shouldn’t have to be right about everything. The evidence has been mounting since 1995, when he killed his final victim,that the Unabomber wasn’t quite as crazy as we thought.
I could bury you in links, but will not. We are slaves, for example, to passwords. I teach lawyers that their devices containing client confidences should, to be properly protective of them under ethics standards, have passwords of at least 18 random letters, characters and numbers, with the password for every such device being different, and all of them changed every month. Or you can go the John Podesta route, use “password.” and get hacked, and eventually disciplined by your bar association, once they decide to get serious.
[CORRECTION: In the original post, I relayed a link to a site where you can check your password to see if it’s been compromised. I had been forwarded the link by another tech-interested lawyer. But as I was just alerted by a commenter (Than you, Brian!) It’s apotential trap and an unethical site, making you reveal your password to check it. I apologize for posting it. See how dangerous and tricky this stuff is? See? SEE?.I fell for the trap of depending on technology to protect us from technology! Ted warned us about that, too.]
Then there is this feature in The Atlantic. An excerpt:
The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone…
Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.
Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy…iGen teens have more leisure time than Gen X teens did, not less. So what are they doing with all that time? They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed….
The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently. It’s not only a matter of fewer kids partying; fewer kids are spending time simply hanging out. That’s something most teens used to do: nerds and jocks, poor kids and rich kids, C students and A students. The roller rink, the basketball court, the town pool, the local necking spot—they’ve all been replaced by virtual spaces accessed through apps and the web.
You might expect that teens spend so much time in these new spaces because it makes them happy, but most data suggest that it does not. The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed to be nationally representative, has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991. The survey asks teens how happy they are and also how much of their leisure time they spend on various activities, including nonscreen activities such as in-person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent years, screen activities such as using social media, texting, and browsing the web. The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.
Now let me tell you my story from this week, as I rush to get a post up on my blog to the neglect of my family, friends and career.
I have some accounts at a financial investment firm that buries me in paper. Some of the accounts are custodial, for my son; some are tiny; some were set up by my parents. I received in the mail an “alert,” requiring my immediate attention. It said that I hadn’t designated a beneficiary for one of the accounts, which it described using only the last four numbers and letters. I could fill out a form and mail it back, but that would require all the numbers. I couldn’t find the account. I could go online to their easy-peezy website, I learned, which I was dead sure would NOT be easy-peezy at all.
So I called the handy 800- number provided. After being asked for an account number, a pin, a password, none of which I have, and my social security number, which I DO have, and waiting 20 minutes for a live person, during which wait I was pounded with ads, promotions and bad music that would make Montovanni turn punk rocker, I finally reached an agent, who asked me again for all of the same sets of numbers I was just asked for. Then he told me that he had to have my account number for the account in question. I told him I don’t have it, and he explained that the easy-peezy website will just list them for me once I log in. Perfect! I exclaimed. (Actually I exclaimed, ” I’ll believe it when I see it.”) He said he’d lead me through the process. I went to the website, which asked for my password. I don’t have a password, I said for the fourth time in the last half hour. No problem! He giave me a temporary password. I put it in and clicked. Oops! I didn’t enter my Username. “Just enter you name,”, he said. I did. The site rejected it. “It has to be without spaces,” he said. “Sorry.”
“Why doesn’t the site say that?” I asked. “It should,” he replied. “Sorry.”
I finally got to the screen where I was asked to create my own password. It had to be be 8-12 figures, use at least one number and upper care letters and not use any one letter or number more than three times. There were other requirements too. Doing the best I could, being an idiot, I meticulously typed in a password that seemed to comply, and the repeat for confirmation. As you know, I can’t type, and this site would not show me what I had typed. It took me three tries to get the two new passwords to match. Then I clicked on “enter new password.”
Rejected. It didn’t say why it was rejected, it just was. I tried the same oassword again, as instructed by my agent. It failed. “Try another,” he said. I did. I tried about ten, in fact, following the requirements, and they were all rejected.
“Look,” I said. “Why don’t you pick a password that works, and give it to me. I don’t care about the password. I just want my damned account number!”
“We can’t do that, sir. Security.’
My wife, who can type, tried to enter a new password, one that she has used for our bank. Nope.
“I think the best thing to do would be to log out, then start again. I don’t know why you are having such trouble,” I was told.
“This has taken almost an hour and you want me to start over? The hell with that! Tell me my account!”
“I can’t do that over the phone, sir!”
“E-mail me the documents with my account number!”
“That’s not secure, sir!”
“Can you overnight me the documents with my account number, so I can fill it out and return it to you?”
“I can do that, sir.”
The papers arrived as promised, but without the required account number, just the last four numbers and letters. For security. Foaming at the mouth, I did exactly what I had done the day before. Phone tree. Promotions, Bad music. I reached a different agent who sounded exactly the same, and told him the whole story, mentioning the Unabomber for the first time. He also gave me a temporary password. THIS time, my new password worked. Then he led me through the online security procedures, stalling on the three “security questions.”
Each of the three had to be picked from a different list of about 25 alternatives. Once I had entered the answers to my three chosen questions, I could finally be approved TO SEE THE ACTUAL ACCOUNTS I OWN.
I was not approved, however. Why? “Oh, it doesn’t say this, but each answer has to be a single word, and to be at least 8 letters.”
“Wait, are you kidding? So if I pick ‘what was the name of my first pet,’ and my first pet’s name was Fluffy, I can’t use that question?
“Or you have to give a different name with 8 letters,”
“BUT THAT WOULDN’T BE THE NAME OF MY FIRST PET!!!”
(This was the second time I mentioned the Unabomber.)
“Try six letters.”
At this point I gave him my favorite quote from “Wargames,” a 1986 film about technology horrors…
“Dr McKittrick? After very careful consideration sir I’ve come to the conclusion that your system sucks.”
“I apologize, sir. Please try six letters.”
That worked. I got in. I found the account. I entered my wife as beneficiary. Wait for iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit…
“Mr. Marshall, my records are showing that she was already the beneficiary. You didn’t need to add her.”
“WHAT? This has taken me three hours over two days, and now you tell me that? Why did I get this alert?”
“It must have been a scheduled mass mailing that our computers sometimes send out. I apologize for the inconvenience, That shouldn’t have happened.”
And this post is the THIRD time I’ve mentioned the Unabomber.
I’m a believer.