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Identity -- it's one big numbers game

PINs, secret codes and Social Security numbers are all that matter. Your name? It's hardly worth mentioning.

June 07, 2004|Jim Shea | Hartford Courant

You're nothing but a number.

Actually, that's not entirely true. You're nothing but a number of numbers.

Your name is irrelevant. Your numbers add up to who you are.

Think not? Try inquiring about a bill without knowing your account number. You'll be listening to on-hold music for so long you'll run out of drool.

Here's my question:

Why can't they just pull up my account by name and address? I'm the only me by my name who lives there. Maybe I'm missing something, but rather than assigning all their customers lengthy numbers, wouldn't it be easier for companies to just teach their operators the alphabet song?

I mean, you have to believe that more people can come up with their last name, off the top of their head, than their 22-digit account number. Of course, even if you can produce your name and account number, there's no guarantee the person at the other end of the line is going to believe you are, in fact, you.

No, for verification purposes, you need to supply another number, and then another, and then another until it gets to the point where the operator is asking:

"Sir, can you tell me the number of fingers I'm holding up?"

And all of this toward what end? Keeping my cable bill top secret? Speaking of which, other than certain measurements, is there any number more closely guarded than the Social Security number?

This number has gotten to be so hush-hush that it has achieved I'd-tell-you-but-then-I'd-have-to-kill-you status.

Want to know what I'm going to get from Social Security? Not enough to live on.

All things considered, I'd have to say that my least favorite number is the PIN. I have a PIN for my ATM card, for my voice mail, for my computer, and for my garage door opener.

In fairness, I should note that the one thing I don't mind about being a number is the dehumanization, the loss of personal identity.

But then I'm around teenagers a lot, so I'm kind of used to being anonymous.

No, aside from the inconvenience, it's the drain on the brain, the taxing of the old storage capacity that gets to me the most.

I now have so many numbers swirling around upstairs that even on a good day I can barely make change.

And, you know -- people are always too quick to agree when I say this -- I'm no Einstein.

Jim Shea is a columnist with the Hartford Courant, a Tribune company.

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