You know that password you keep using over and over, or some version of it? The one you know you're not supposed to keep using because it's personal but you do anyway because you can remember it? Right, that one. That's the one Ian Urbina is writing about in a fascinating New York Times magazine piece about the "secret life of passwords"—how and why we pick them. Yes, he knows that "passwords are universally despised," a modern plague. But get your friends or even strangers to cough them up, as he has, and you'll find that many "are suffused with pathos, mischief, sometimes even poetry," he writes. "Often they have rich back stories. A motivational mantra, a swipe at the boss, a hidden shrine to a lost love, an inside joke with ourselves, a defining emotional scar."
Urbina refers to them as "keepsake passwords," and provides lots of actual ones he's collected to prove the point. But the most poignant example of the tendency is in the essay's opening anecdote: In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the emotionally wrecked chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald had to start calling the relatives of his 658 co-workers and friends killed in the twin towers. It wasn't just to console, but to run through a checklist of questions—"What is your wedding anniversary? Tell me again where he went for undergrad? You guys have a dog, don’t you? What’s her name? You have two children. Can you give me their birth dates?”—so technicians could figure out their passwords. Click for the full column. (Read more passwords stories.)