I try not to go into work on 2nd January. Three years out of seven it's either the weekend or a bank holiday, making it easy to avoid. Next year it'll be a lone Friday after a bank holiday, so stuff that. But in 2014, damn, no alternative.
It was a quiet day in the office, as you'd expect. Anyone with any sense was still fast asleep at home when I rolled in, and will be again this morning. I switched on my computer and tried very hard to remember my system password. It'd been over a fortnight since I'd needed to use it, and these hard-to-crack alphanumerics can be hard to remember too. But all was good, and I was straight in through verification screen number one.
And then verification screen number two insisted that I change my password. I was sort-of prepared, having been warned before Christmas that replacing my old one would soon be necessary. We used to be left to discover this on the day, but the latest system starts sending email reminders three weeks in advance. I ignore these, obviously, especially when the expiry date is so far into the future that it would be stupid to change. And I changed my password yesterday simply enough, via my usual system of upping the numeric part a bit. On this occasion it meant a password ending in 666, but I smiled that off, and moved on.
After the operating system loaded, which took a while longer, I needed to enter a password to get into my email. They've got this sorted at work, I thought, because the password for email is exactly the same as the password for logging on in the first place. You could argue that this makes verification entirely pointless, but I like to consider the repetition to be useful simplification. So I typed in my new password, and that failed to work. So I typed in my old password, and that failed to work too. So I typed in my new password again, and got an error message saying stop right there.
OK, I thought. I'll turn it off and on again - this often works, and if I ring the helpdesk that's what they'll ask me to do anyway. It took a while. And then I wasn't entirely sure which password I'd need to get back in through the initial logon screen, because it wasn't clear how global my earlier password reset had been. I tried my new password, which failed, then my old password, which let me in. But I had no such luck with verification screen two. I tried the old one, then the new one, then got a message saying I'd been locked out and needed to contact an administrator.
I was now forced to ring the helpdesk. This used to be in the building somewhere, but now routes via a normal London telephone number to somewhere on the subcontinent. Good luck, I thought, as a lady called 'Angela' answered my call. We attempted communication, the technician and I, which involved her asking questions and me answering what I thought she'd asked. I definitely caught her telling me to log off again, and then to log back into the system in "five to ten minutes". I thought this unnecessarily imprecise, but played along with the spirit of the request anyway.
And did this work? Of course it didn't, and I was left staring at the same lockout message I'd last seen ten to fifteen minutes earlier. So I rang the helpdesk again... and got somebody completely different this time. They treated me as if I was ringing in with a completely separate problem, which I sort-of was, but which didn't really help. By the end of this semi-intelligible conversation I had a fresh password, namely Password01, which is what they usually give us in these circumstances. Oh, but could I wait for "five to ten minutes" before I tried it? So I went and made a cup of tea, very slowly.
Entering a default password of course forced me to select another, my fourth password of the day. I was now up to ...777, with demonic ...666 having lasted barely half an hour. Still, at least I was finally through to my email again... where it turned out my new password didn't work either, and neither did the old one. So I rang the helpdesk again, and got a new bloke, and a new suggestion, which was to do nothing at all for "five to ten minutes". I sipped my tea and waited.
By now, what with with phone calls and turning off and on again and everything, I'd wasted almost 90 minutes of my morning. But at least I could get finally into my email... which it turned out consisted mostly of password update reminders received daily over Christmas. There were also three separate administrative emails from the helpdesk, recently arrived, each with a separate job number and a different employee's name at the end. I deleted the lot and got on with my work.
Online life is getting inexorably cleverer, and more integrated, and more efficient. When it works it's great, but when it doesn't it's even more of a mess to escape from than before. An increasing number of passwords is required to chart our way through everything, and heaven help you if one of those isn't recognised or doesn't work when it should. With assistance increasingly sited offshore, or via some electronic system, the chances of finding someone nearby who can help you are decreasing. Still, at least it's nearly the weekend already.