Password Management Ground Zero for Digital Literacy

During the open infrastructure panel at the OpenVA conference in Virginia Beach this past Fall, Martha Burtis had a great little tear about how we should focus less on centrally integrated IT systems that hide complexity, and push towards loosely coupled systems that reflect more accurately how the web works. She went on to advocate that rather than endlessly pursuing the holy grail of single sign-on, institutions should we spend time showing their community how to use a password manager. It’s a great, provocative bit, and captures Martha acumen quite nicely:

It’s a moment I have thought about many times since, and while I was traveling during the second week of the Domain of One’s Own Faculty Initiative this spring, Martha sat in for me with my cohort. She introduced them all to the password management tool LastPass, and effectively changed their digital lives :) I am only half kidding. If you have worked with faculty or students regularly, you quickly realize how difficult managing passwords is for most folks. I often tell #ds106 internauts that the biggest technical challenge they’ll face in the course is managing their various passwords, and it’s absolutely true.

Password management tools like LastPass (we use that to collectively manage our DTLT passwords thanks to Ryan Brazell) and 1Password (we use that for Reclaim Hosting  thanks to Kin Lane) have increasingly become essential to my regular web workflow. With the advent of UMW Domains (not to mention all of our servers for Reclaim) I have as many as 25-30 different logins for work alone. Remembering them is impossible, and storing them locally on my browser or in my keychain is not only risky, but they don’t travel well (or at all) to other computers. Turns out learning a password management tool was one of the most useful lessons for me this year, and that was also the case for several UMW Domains faculty in my cohort, thanks to Martha.

I’m starting to think password management should be ground zero for literacy when it comes to managing your online world. It was immediately apparent how big an impact it made on faculty in the cohort. That might be why Kin Lane suggests your first step to reclaiming your online world is taking inventory of all your online services (as well as the logins and passwords) so you can actually begin to understand how extensive your online world is, and how much you need to start managing that presence. The lesson is both practical and conceptual all at once, it’s a great way to start any conversation around managing one’s identity online.