How a forgotten password turned me into a vandal


Screw it, no more accounts! I’ll tell you the story of how, in one day, I lost access to my entire digital life, which taught me a lesson about the importance of organizing digital identities.

Devices and digital accounts are becoming the gates to our professional, personal, and social lives. But what if those gatekeepers refuse you access?

According to a survey conducted by NordPass, an average person has around 70-80 digital accounts. That’s a lot, isn’t it? Also, keep in mind that you need to follow cybersecurity practices, use different passwords for different accounts, and change passwords frequently due to password expiration mechanisms. That definitely goes beyond the average human brain's capacities. The excessive number of passwords you need to juggle on a daily basis is exhausting, but imagine what happens if you lose access to all of them at once. It’s a complete nightmare.

I’ll share the story of the day I lost access to my personal computer and cell phone, which left me feeling as though I had been completely erased from existence.

A broken screen deleted me from life

I lay my dead phone with a broken screen into the caring arms of the insurance representative, who said he would send it to the repair shop for revival. “What about my data safety?” I asked him, and he assured me, “Don’t worry. They will delete your data and reset the phone.

“What’s your phone passcode, by the way? They’ll need it at the repair shop.” This question left me wondering if I was giving away all my personal data, access to my accounts, passport photos, nudes, and intimate messages to some guy at the repair shop for 10 days, trusting him that he was just going to reset the phone. Maybe I should just try logging out from my digital accounts remotely? I pulled out my laptop and tried my luck.

Firstly, I headed to the Samsung account. A holy grail that allows you to move your Android device data across devices seamlessly. Unfortunately, this grail is not meant to be found by me.

To log in and set up your account, you need a phone. Why didn't I think about that earlier? In the beginning, my phone wasn’t working to do 2FA, and now I have no phone at all because it’s at the repair shop. Sorry, it’s my problem, and Samsung won’t help me log out from the device. This means that all of my sensitive data stays in my broken phone.

I attempted to log off from my phone using my LinkedIn account. While I can see that my phone is logged in, I also notice that someone from Romania is also on my account. That’s weird.

Ok, let’s delete my Galaxy and those cybercrooks. Think again, as LinkedIn is not that willing to help me. To log the Romanians, or potentially a repair shop guy, out, I need a password.

Guess what, I don't know the password. To reset it, a code will be sent either to a phone or to my email. Guess where my phone is? We already know where it is, and I was unlucky enough to have registered to LinkedIn a long time ago and used a corporate email from one of my previous jobs. Damn it. I am definitely not contacting them.

Other ways to restore the password? LinkedIn wants me to send a picture of my ID. Well, that’s exactly the reason why I am changing the password. I am not going to reveal any more personal data while someone is using my account. Furious, I leave LinkedIn. The Romanians and repair shop guy can enjoy my professional account. In the end, what are they gonna do with it? Find me a new job? Go on! I honestly do not care anymore.

Now is the turn for the mother of all accounts – THE Google. I found out that you can simply delete devices from your Google account without entering the password. Great. The only problem is that I have no idea what my Google password is to log back in. I had this password saved in my phone for so long that I completely forgot what it was.

As a writer, if I lose access to this account, I lose all of my life’s work. What a great risk to take. After giving it a second thought, I decided not to log myself off. The repair shop guy can enjoy my poetry, too. Just give me a break from all these digital accounts. I am soooooo tired.

I don’t know who listened to my prayers, but it manifests instantly. My personal laptop slips from my lap and hits the floor. I can hear the sound, and it breaks my heart. The screen goes black. Now, I can say goodbye to my digital life completely.

broken screen mac
Dying Macbook

Next thing I knew – I became a vandal

No computer, no phone. Can you imagine using online banking systems or governmental systems? Absolutely not, because you need 2FA – a code sent to your phone. Good thing I still have those weird Tamagochi-looking PIN generators that I’ve been using since probably the Stone Age.

I was diligently not mixing my personal and professional digital lives, so I was left with no access to my social media, even though I technically still had my work computer. I could recall my Instagram password, but guess what? Yup, to log in from a new device, you need to enter the code sent to your phone.

Maybe I should take an extra shift at work now? As I wouldn’t be able to do anything anyway. How can I even meet people now if I have no access to chat apps and regular calling? The answer is probably to send a postal pigeon.

My friend and I were planning to go to a music festival that week. We hadn’t planned anything yet because, of course, I was going to DM her at the last minute.

How can I possibly do it now?

The plans are definitely ruined. I’m devastated, but there’s some hope. As crazy as it sounds in this day and age, I know where she lives, so I drive to her building and turn up on the doorstep uninvited.

The doorbell rings, but no one opens the door because, apparently, no one is home. Damn it. My last hope just died. I was about to descend the staircase when a genius idea penetrated my mind. I take out a pencil, and start writing over the white wall in huge letters.

“I don’t have a phone or a computer. If you ever want to see me again, call my daughter's toy Nokia.”

I also doodled a pigeon with a letter in its beak. While vandalizing the walls of my friend, a brilliant idea comes to mind. Art really helps to boost creativity. If the processor and hard disks of my computer weren’t affected by the strike, I have some hope left.

The moon is shining, and I’m heading back to the office. I find an HDMI cable somewhere in the closet and plug the external monitor into my personal computer. Tonight is my lucky night, as the monitor lights up and I see my desktop.

This time, I want to do things right. My head definitely is not going to generate and, most importantly, store strong passwords. Yup, the time has come. I have to silence my suspicion and download a password manager.

I have access to my computer. Huge victory, but there are bigger quests for tonight! Remember, I still need to change all of my passwords so the repair shop guys won’t get access to my precious data.

Sitting alone in the darkness of the empty office, I start counting and writing down all the accounts I have in order to change the passwords. I counted more than 60. I used the same eight variations of passwords across most of my personal accounts.

To make things worse, most of them were simply stored in my browser or on notes on my personal laptop. What was I thinking? Don’t try this at home, folks.

This time, I want to do things right. My head definitely is not going to generate and, most importantly, store strong passwords. Yup, the time has come. I have to silence my suspicion and download a password manager.

Dawn hits the office windows, and I have most of my digital accounts secured with new, strong passwords that would make cybersecurity guys proud. But I feel as exhausted as if I just ran a marathon.

Account fatigue is real

That was my experience, but I am not alone in this. Account and password fatigue is a real thing. A study from the College of London found that users, on average, can cope with four or five regularly used passwords, and the number is lower if passwords are used infrequently.

The information overload leads to so-called password or account fatigue. This is the overwhelming feeling of stress, frustration, and exhaustion resulting from the excessive number of passwords that users are required to maintain for their various accounts.

This frustration commonly leads to bad practices like writing down passwords or creating weak passwords made from your or your pet’s name, sharing logins, or avoiding tasks just to avoid the torture of trying to find the way to log in. According to a report by Google, 65% of users choose to reuse passwords across multiple websites.

Epilogue

My friend found a way to reach out to me. She was laughing hard at the vandalized walls. Of course, her neighbors were not as happy as she was. We went to the festival, and I just had to embrace the 90s vibe once again. No accounts, no digital lives. Just pure being and enjoying the music.

Feeling the moment, not broadcasting it to social media. Just talking to the people without any means of meeting them again on purpose. Unless, of course, you can try sending a postal pigeon.

P.S. Guys, some friendly advice. Use password manager not to go through the same hell as I did. And have an extra phone. You know, just in case. So that in case of an emergency, you will not need to vandalize your friend’s walls to contact them.