Saturday, March 26, 2016

Forced to Choose

I like to think I'm pretty open to a variety of experiences, be it food, places or activities. Sure, I have things I might prefer, but truth be told, they're not articles I hold very dearly. I like Italian food, but am easily tempted by Thai. I enjoy hiking, but also like walking through museums. The city is good today, the country tomorrow. Other than a strong dislike towards Brussels sprouts, sandals with socks, and Britney Spears songs, I can be persuaded to try just about anything. (Yes, I know the way you prepare YOUR Brussels sprouts is unbelievably delicious, but not to me.)

But not playing favorites is getting me into difficulties. I'm not talking about how it occasionally annoys my wife (ask her: it's probably more than occasionally). The truth is I really don't have an answer to "What do YOU want to have for dinner?" or "What do YOU want do today?" I see my being non-committal as being flexible and open, as opposed to not wanting the responsibility for making a choice. That said, I do know that feeling of sometimes just wanting someone to tell you what to do, as opposed to weighing the pros and cons of every decision, no matter inconsequential it may seem.

The problem is that this not holding strong preferences seems to be placing my personal security at risk. Hard to imagine that my lack of a favorite color or bestest book would mark me as anything more than not being a third grader. But that's the situation I find myself in as I am asked to prove, as Popeye said, "I am who I am, and that's all I am."

Recently signing up to handle some online financial transactions I was happy to see that security was a major focus. Data breaches are everywhere, both public or private. And while the system presented to me wouldn't stop the Chinese from infiltrating the FBI's computers, perhaps it would at least deter some 18-year-old hacker in the Ukraine from gaining access to my Time magazine account and ordering subscriptions for all his relatives in Donets'k.

So I input my name and other relevant info, and selected a password that contained letters, capitals, numbers, special symbols, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and things Prince used to call himself. I even managed to type the same thing twice, no small feat when the string is 16 characters long and reads like a 2-year was banging on the keyboard.  

But then it came time to set up my super special challenge questions. These used to be easy: your mother's maiden name, the high school you went to, your first employer. But with more and more data online, it takes even a casual snoop just seconds to call that stuff up. Between Linkedin, Facebook and other random websites of old info, if it takes more than two minutes for a stranger to find out your last three jobs, your entire educational history and your family tree, its only because they paused in the middle to reply to a text.

As a result, I was asked more subjective questions to which only I would know the answers, and which would be almost impossible to discern based on a factual record. What was my favorite movie? My favorite drink? My favorite place to vacation? As I said, I like a lot of things, and so the answers to those kinds of questions depend on my state of mind, mood and other factors. I like Diet Coke with pizza, but iced tea with pretzels. Sure, I admire "Singin' In The Rain" but thought "The Godfather" was also a masterpiece. Love going to Italy, but Hong Kong is exciting too. Whatever I answer right now would not necessarily be the same response I would give in two weeks. Put another way, I could be locked out of my own account for liking both Steely Dan AND The Eagles about the same.

I know it makes me less safe. But this all means I will have to default to the traditional questions, and make the name of my first pet the way to prove I am who I am. The problem is this: I'm just a little uncomfortable that the way to access my all that money I've been saving for my retirement is to type "Cuddles."


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves it when someone else decides where to go for dinner. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

No comments: