Think of W.H. Auden’s poem, The Unknown Citizen, which opens with
(To JS/07 M 378
This marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)
Have you ever considered how, like JS/07 M 378, we too are unwittingly a part of a universal Numbers Game? We are so deeply into it that much of what happens in our daily lives wouldn’t function without strict adherence to the rules.
Take my name, for example. I would like to think it is unique. A Google search, however, shows several other women bearing my first name attached to either my maiden surname or my married surname! Anyone trying their own moniker for a gmail address is bound to have a similar experience – unless they happened to get in first. What really makes me unique, in this country anyway, is not my name, but my identity number.
My name aside, I cannot do anything official – like open a bank account, enter the Home Affairs premises, renew my driving licence, take on a paid job, or even pay my income tax – without providing that unique identity number.
My tax number is required by anyone who employs me, by the bank, and by lawyers or estate agents should I wish to sell any property.
The landline that connects me to the rest of the world has a telephone number, which requires me to punch in a number code if I wish to retrieve any recorded messages or a series of numbers should I want to make contact with anyone else via that means. I also have a cell phone number and I need to remember the PIN that will let me use the phone should I have switched it off. I cannot even enter my locked home without disarming the alarm by entering a special numeric code!
I cannot access my laptop without entering a password. I cannot access my online bank account without using both a password and a code. Even accessing income tax online requires of me a password and a code.
Then there is the PIN to verify my credit card. A registration number identifies my car among the many others of the same make and colour in every large parking lot. Our house has a street number and both that address and my mail address gets sorted via a postal code.
Some people use number codes for their front gates – you have to shout at mine because either the bell or its batteries get stolen from time to time. Cyclists use a code for their bicycle locks; some people require a number code to open their home safes; these days many parents have to punch in a number to gain access to their childrens’ school sport facilities.
Having to keep all these numbers, password and codes in one’s head can be a tad confusing – and forgetting one holds the dire prospect of being locked out of one’s cell phone, being denied access to one’s banking facility, or prevented from using one’s credit card: three strikes and you are out!
How interesting it is that the thumbprint – once the preserve of the illiterate – is making a comeback, albeit in a digital format. Names and numbers aside that is the only thing that makes each of us truly unique.