There is a support group for people who sign up for too many online profiles. The group meets once a week in the basement of an old church. I went to last week’s meeting.
The group is led by a woman who at one point held profiles from 157 different websites. “Each account had a unique password with at least one uppercase letter, one number, and one symbol,” she said to me as she introduced herself. “This was a great source of pride to me.” Then one day she couldn’t remember one of the passwords, and she had a nervous breakdown, and had to spend some time in an institution, where she was heavily medicated and had to re-learn how to say her own name without numbers or underscores. She eventually became rehabilitated enough to go into a group home and now her responsibilities are leading the weekly meetings and refilling the reservoir on the Keurig coffee dispenser.
We sat in a circle and one of the attendees, a young man, began to speak.
“I had a Google account and a Facebook account and a Twitter account. Then I joined LinkedIn, even though I didn’t have a job, and I had to borrow a coat and tie and pressed shirt from a friend for the profile photo, and because the t-shirt was mine you could still see the dinosaur design through the white shirt I borrowed.
“And then I joined Pinterest even though I had nothing to pin, and Goodreads even though I haven’t read a book in years. Frankly, I had thought they stopped making books.
“Then there was a site that advertised free music, and a site that counted calories.” He tapped his abdomen as he says this. “I had to pick a username and password for all these accounts, and I always picked the same password: RoseBud. I thought I was being smart. Turned out I wasn’t so smart, because it was the same username and password that I use for my online banking, and my identity was stolen. Luckily, I didn’t have any money. So I deleted all these accounts and now I’m much happier. I even tried to buy a book, but I had deleted my Amazon account.”
Next a young woman spoke. “I was on all those sites and apps that he was on, and more. Except I used a different username and password for each one. I was like a secret agent, walking the Earth with a stack of drivers’ licenses, trying to keep track of multiple identities. I didn’t know who I was. I created a document in Microsoft Word to keep track of all my usernames and passwords, but then I got worried that a hacker would be able to find the document. So I encrypted the usernames and passwords with a code of my own making. But I had to keep the code somewhere, and I was afraid to keep it on my computer. So I wrote the code with a pen and paper and hid it inside of a box of Cracklin’ Oat Bran.”
Suddenly all the eyes were on me. It was time to share my story. But I didn’t know what to say. I clearly didn’t have a problem. I was in attendance only because I needed a topic for my blog, a blog that I access with a password that I change every week because I’m worried that someone will hack my account and start posting unfunny blog posts. These people were the crazy ones. Not me. So I finished my cup of coffee and said that I wasn’t ready to talk about myself. And they smiled, and thanked me, and said to keep coming.