I spent this afternoon trying to regain access to a Twitter account for which I had lost the associated e-mail address. In their infinite wisdom, Twitter have now decreed that an e-mail address may be necessary to access an account, over and above the traditional requirement for a username and password. This becomes a problem if your digital footprint is sufficiently large and disorganized that e-mail addresses have proliferated beyond your control. Not to mention if the password ‘hint’ provided by the platform is so obscured as to be utterly useless.
I have three e-mail addresses that are meaningfully active. I have another three that are still in circulation but are currently inaccessible for various reasons. Following an afternoon retracing my footsteps over the last few years, I found another three e-mail addresses that I’m no longer using. My capacity to retrace my footprint stalled at this point because the only method I could think of, looking up accounts for which my main e-mail addresses were listed as recovery accounts on google mail, ceased to produce results. From this method alone, I know that my old Warwick account had other addresses associated with it but, as it’s now defunct, I can’t get access to them. On the basis that each Twitter account I’ve setup has at least one address associated with it, I must have many more. But I’m fucked if I know what they are.
This is time consuming. But it’s also unnerving. Each abandoned account is a vector of risk, collectively constituting a map to my digital life, susceptible to being retraced from the weakest point. These products of past whims and initiatives, each so easy to forget, jointly leave us open to identification, intervention and harm. It’s so natural to let this stuff slip from your mind and so jarring to be reacquainted with it, the tedious business of retracing your steps inevitably leaving you with plenty of time to ponder the risks entailed. Not to mention the aesthetics: the digital mess.
I speculated a while ago about the new consultancy position of the digital escapologist, hired to help the time-poor escape from the filter bubble: taking charge of your digital footprint, liberating you from ubiquitous manipulation, so that you don’t have to. I think this extends to digital mess as well because this sort of accumulated digital detritus goes hand-in-hand with risk. As a serious sociological forecast, I believe that lifestyle services to deal with these problems will become a mass growth sector in coming years, providing a service half way between an accountant and a personal trainer. To the digital escapologists that I expect will become common place over the next decade: I wish you existed now so I could hire you, instead of putting off for months the tedious crap I realised this afternoon that I must do.