Recently, one of my instant messaging accounts was compromised. Exactly how and by whom doesn’t really matter, but the upshot was that some of my friends received unpleasant messages that appeared to be from me. Upsetting, to be sure, but something interesting happened in the aftermath.
Once I changed a bunch of passwords and checked a pile of security settings and made contact with my friends through other channels to assure them I hadn’t gone nuts, I took a week off of IM and then resumed with this status message:
Ask me a question that only I can answer.
This way, I figured, my friends could do a quick authentication on me before chatting. It’s a bit like the bank asking for my mother’s maiden name. The interesting difference is that a good “only I can answer” question also authenticates the asker. A disturbingly large number of institutions seem to know my mother’s maiden name and my social security number and a dozen other things. But only somebody who was with me on that road trip in 1994 would know to ask about the orange juice in Lubec, and only somebody else on that trip would be able to tell the story.
Perhaps you remember that “25 things about me” meme that was big for a while. It was interesting enough, but I skipped it. It was like a lot of social media, broadcasting somewhat self-indulgently to a mixed audience of those who might care and those who might not, perhaps a little too much information.
My little instant messaging glitch introduced me to a more intimate meme (if a meme can be intimate) of “one thing about us” where I ended up sharing several small moments, one on one, with individuals to whom those moments were memorable. Not that all those items were so deep and meaningful, but the exercise of recalling them was pleasant.