Peter’s been in a throw out the old, bring in the new mood over this Christmas break, which I believe was, at least in part, inspired by Tim Gunn. Since paring down his closet, Peter’s also ripped out obsolete wiring; replaced or retired old technology; and cleaned out our garage and attic. The consequence of the last of these was pulling out many boxes of old files we no longer needed. While Peter shredded known confidential information, such as customer orders, employee payment stubs, and old checks, I set to the task of sorting through all the rest and divide it into “must be shredded” and “may simply be thrown away.” You see, the shredder we have at home is cheap and feeble, and after a few minutes of shredding paper, it overheats. So any files that didn’t need to be shredded would save us time and hassle.
But going through the files was incredibly revelatory. I was amazed at how much we had to put into our “must be shredded” file because it was only a relatively few years ago that retailers became sensitive to the problem of identify theft. Old receipts not only had our names and complete credit card number on it, but often also had the credit card’s expiration date and our driver’s license number on it as well! Our social security number was our identification number on a variety of invoices, including for Peter’s company-provided health insurance. OMG, it was a wonder we weren’t all being spoofed by grifters and related creeps in those days, because all it required was a grab into a trash bag!
Speaking of grifters, I had the unpleasant task of sorting through the many papers for the court case I had against a grifter roommate who’d stolen my wallet, gone shopping with my credit cards, and conned me out of two months’ rent which she never paid to the landlord. I didn’t renew my court judgment against her, but I’d wanted to keep the records as criminal evidence, even though the SFPD had been largely indifferent to the same evidence I’d given them, which included paper with other people’s names and credit card numbers on them. But I didn’t want to be reminded, so I’d been happy to let it all moulder in the attic. Now I had to go through it to destroy the records that had my information on it, such as the credit card statements with the fraudulent purchases on them. I’d forgotten that after I’d gone to the police and quit the apartment, she’d forged my name on a mail form and forwarded the mail to herself. That’s a federal crime, and I reported it, but no one bothered to enforce the law and send her to a federal prison for it. I made sure to keep all her information, such as her social security number, intact, but like most grifters, she’s probably changed her name and social security number several times since then. And just in case she rears her ugly head again, I kept the record of the court judgment itself, and the police reports, with two of her known aliases.
Peter’s past was more entertaining to him. He laughed to see how low his bank statements had been, back in the day when he’d just graduated from college and started working. He had old articles he’d written for long-obsolete machines (the Apple II), college humor, and copies of ads he’d put up offering tutoring in college. A pile of our wedding photos fell out of one file folder, as well as a print out of a list of his pre-ComicBase comic book collection, created on an Apple II. That stuff we’re keeping.
The rest of it also had us reminiscing on how much better business is these days. We had to write a lot more checks, because many businesses were too small (like Human Computing at its beginning) to qualify for a credit card account. And when we did have a credit card account, we still had to run internet transactions manually on obscenely expensive equipment. These days, credit cards are automatically processed and verified through the computer, and anyone, no matter how small, can accept credit cards and electronic transfers via Paypal. We had enormous phone bills, which are now a moot question, thanks to cell phones and VOIP. And having to print out our computer code as a backup method, or having to use snail mail to submit magazine articles? We can’t even imagine we once had to do something as idiotic and inefficient as that!
Most all of this history got shredded and dumped. And quite honestly, everything, from security to technology, is far far better than it was in the recent past.