Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Memory and strings

"Tie a string around your finger."
This is an old-fashioned memory prompt from before when memos started arriving via PDAs, computer calendars and smartphones -- you tie a string around your finger to help you remember that you're supposed to remember something. It doesn't tell you what you're supposed to remember, mind you, but at least you'll be aware of the need. Sooner or later, it will chafe, or you'll just happen to notice it, and maybe at that point, you'll be able to buy milk on the way home, or otherwise accomplish whatever deed you could only remind yourself about before.

In the modern era, of course, strings have another meaning related to memory. A string is a linear artifact with a beginning and an end; in computer coding, a string is a sequence of characters. A character string generally stands for something; it can represent a variable or a constant, and you (or your computer code) can manipulate it or compare it with other strings in order to make a decision.

One type of character string that many people use daily is a password. You must enter all the password's characters in their correct sequence, like the numbers for a combination lock, except that here you're matching a data string instead of clicking tumblers.

I was thinking a few days ago about the character strings I hold in my own memory. I used to remember a lot of telephone numbers, for my office, my home, my parents, and several other relatives and a few friends. Now I know only two full telephone numbers -- my home and my cell -- and four-digit office extensions for myself and two other people. Everything else is stored in my cell or written down somewhere.

However, there's a lot else I have to remember: My work terminal password, my work software ID and password, my work email password, and a few other strings that I use daily for work; at home, I have a couple more e-mail accounts, four social media accounts, and several more log-ons that I use often enough to hold in my memory, all with different IDs and passwords, plus my Social Security number, PIN, and some more identifiers.

So even though I feel a little silly sometimes because I don't know anybody's phone number anymore, I need to remember that actually I'm giving my memory a pretty good workout most days. I'm counting 32 strings, although I may have forgotten one or two!

How about you? Can you count up how many character strings you use often enough to carry around in your head? Tell me! If you don't have time to tally them up right now, well, maybe you can just tie a string around your finger.

1 comment:

  1. I like the associations here connected by string. :-)

    I use Keypass on my home Fedora computer home and Gorilla Password on my work laptop to store my passwords encrypted, although I can remember 6-10 passwords and 4-7 phone numbers if I try, especially depending on how recently I've used them. I forgot my ATM PIN and had to get that re-set a couple of weeks ago.

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