Boomers Learned to Deal With Passcodes

Hard to believe, but Mister Boomer does not earn enough income from his site to support the lavish lifestyle to which he and his spouse have grown accustomed. Therefore, he works a full-time job. The restrooms at his place of employment are shared by other businesses on the same floor, so the doors have keypad locks on them for access, as does the door returning to his employee space. Mister Boomer realized, after mindlessly punching in the two codes, how common it is for all boomers these days to have committed passcodes and passwords of all types to memory, to the point that they become automatic reflexes — until, one day, the brain freezes and you develop a case of CRS (can’t remember “stuff”).

According to a recent study by Intel Security, the average person keeps track of 27 passwords for email, social media accounts, banking, phone access, online shopping, health insurance, computer logins, specialty sites and more. The same study states that 37 percent of people forget a password once a week. That would explain why the vast majority do not keep entirely different passwords for every account they have, a practice that lights warning signals among security experts.

For boomers still working, the password memory test is even worse. One study stated that the average business employee had to recall 191 passwords; computer logins, email, software access, printer access in some locations, proprietary system logins, and more, to say nothing of building and restroom access. In the department of teaching old dogs new tricks, the fact that boomers went with the flow over the past twenty years, and adapted to the new environs, seems pretty impressive to Mister Boomer. Yet it certainly wasn’t always this way for boomers.

In the boomer years, Password was a game show (1961-1975), where a celebrity and a “regular” person were teamed together to face another team. Members of the team traded giving each other one-word clues to guess the secret word — the “password.” Little did we know that the show was the blueprint for cyber hackers in years to come. And none of them had to prove they weren’t a robot.

Then there was the matter of locks for school. In Mister Boomer’s experience, boomers had to supply a lock for gym class. More often than not, the lock was a Master combination lock. The combination was printed on a piece of cardboard that was attached to the lock when it was purchased. Once in use, if the cardboard was misplaced or the combination forgotten, there was only one recourse to “recover” this password: clippers the size of the Jaws of Life were brought to bear on the offending lock, which was then snipped to oblivion and ergo, the “password” was reset by buying a new lock. Fortunately for Mister Boomer, he never had to suffer the humiliation of having his gym teacher slash the lock into scrap, an action that appeared to be a form of sadistic enjoyment for the Leader of the Jocks. Consequently, Mister B was able to keep the same lock (and therefore “password” combination) for all four years.

While the gym lockers required each student to supply a lock, his high school lockers had their own built-in locks. If a student forgot the combination, a trip to the school office could retrieve the code.

Then there was Mister Boomer’s bike lock, a chain permanently attached to a barrel combination lock. The numbers rolled around a cylinder like a primitive Rubik’s cube, until the right combination of numbers opened the lock. Again, it was one Mister Boomer kept for many, many years. So, in his school days, Mister B only needed three passwords: his school locker, gym lock and bike lock. Not too tasking on a young boomer’s brain.

Recently, Mister B ran across his combination lock in a box of his memorabilia. He had, with some foresight, written the combination on a piece of paper and poked the lock through it before he had locked it for what turned out to be decades. Nonetheless as he turned the tumbler: 24 left – 4 right – 13 left – 18 right; it all came back to him when the lock snapped open. In a flashback he saw himself opening the lock over and over. Then the combination to his bike lock appeared in his mind’s eye as well. He remembered them like it was yesterday. It occurred to Mister B that if he could remember his lock combinations all these years, then he had better change some of the umpteen passwords he has today to something he already knows. You won’t tell anyone, will you?

How have you solved the ongoing dilemma of creating distinct passwords, boomers?

Boomers Were Told Not to “Fold, Spindle or Mutilate”

One of the things about being an aging boomer is, we get flashes of memories from our built-in Wayback Machines. This past week, one such thought that popped into Mister Boomer’s cranium was the phrase, do not fold, spindle or mutilate. Mister B’s memory focused on a page of stickers from a Mad (or was it Sick?) magazine he saw in the early 1960s. The page held clever, funny and topical phrases in sticker form, like what was later painted on Goldie Hawn’s bikini-clad body on Laugh-In; two that Mister B recalls were, “Keep Off Grass,” and “Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate.” Mister B could relate to the latter, because at an early age, he knew what that meant.

In the boomer years, the phrase was printed on punch cards (also known as punched cards) that were used for data processing and computer tabulating. In the 1700s, a loom was invented that used punch cards strung together, much like a roll for a player piano. The cards were “programmed” to create a repeatable pattern, though the loom was still operated by hand. However, Herman Hollerith is generally credited with being the first to use the punch card in data processing in the late 1800s. Each card, made of stiff paper, held a series of rows of variable data fields. As holes were punched, they represented the value associated with those fields. For example, one such field might represent an answer of male or female. The success of his testing culminated in the U.S. government adopting punch cards for widespread use in the 1890 U.S. Census. Hollerith’s major contribution was not the punch card, however, but machines to tabulate the data on the cards. Hollerith formed a company in 1896 to market his machines, and called it the Tabulating Machine Corporation. By the early 1900s, Hollerith’s machines had competition from other companies, and punch cards were used in all types of industries and business applications. When a financier merged the Tabulating Machine Corporation with two others in 1914, International Business Machines (IBM) was born. In the beginning, machines only counted holes, but by the 1920s, they were doing basic arithmetic. During WWII, punch cards were used in efforts to decode German encrypted messages. As computers entered the business and academic worlds in the 1950s, punch cards were adapted for computer tabulation.

The phrase appears on punch cards as far back as the 1940s, but became part of the boomer vernacular as a point of satire and ridicule around 1964, when the University of California-Berkeley used punch cards to register students. These punch cards had the phrase emblazoned across the top of the card. Now, everybody knows the way to get a boomer to do something — especially in the 1960s — was to tell him or her not to do it. Students who were part of the Free Speech Movement protested the use of the cards, saying it was a dehumanizing act that represented a Big Brother system. They held rallies in which students went out of their way to fold, spindle and mutilate the university cards.

Shows like The Prisoner (1967-68) echoed the cultural sentiment of the time concerning the dehumanizing influx of computer technology into daily lives. Here is a famous scene from the TV series, starring Patrick McGoohan, where he expresses his distaste for having his name replaced with a number.

Mister Boomer knew about punch cards and “do not fold, spindle or mutilate” because his mother was a keypunch operator. When she decided, in the early 1960s, that she wanted to go back to work, Mister B’s mom enrolled in a school that taught a course on the operation of keypunch machines. Using a keyboard, each operator would punch holes into cards as the keys were struck. Speed and accuracy as a typist were paramount for getting a job in that position. The equivalent in our current era woud be data entry processors. When Mister B’s mother finished the course, first she worked for a major health insurance company, then changed jobs to a regional bank. It was closer to home, and she enjoyed the work for three or so years.

By then it was the late 1960s, and magnetic tape had begun to replace punch cards to store computer data. One day Mister B’s mom came home from her afternoon work shift and said that her entire department had been shut down. Her employer did to the department what the phrase on the cards said not to do. Mister B’s mom went from benefiting from modern technology to becoming a victim of newer technology.

Many boomers will recall using punch cards to vote in the 1970s. The removing of pre-scored tabs in cards was still in wide use in many states in the 1980s. Of course, everyone remembers the problem of the “hanging chads” in the 2000 Presidential Election in the state of Florida. That became the final straw for the punch card. Perhaps voters should have heeded the phrase command.

When did you first hear the phrase, “do not fold, spindle or mutilate,” boomers?