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password babble

Thinking about art you might make often proves far more pleasurable than the making of it. I think this is true of any project which forces us to test the gap between what's envisioned and what can actually be produced. The imagined is nearly always more potent than whatever is brought physically into the world. Perhaps this is why children so often disappoint their parents.

If an imagined project is practically impossible, the enjoyment that comes from imagining it is all the more pure. Achievable dreams can hide a sour taste just beneath their surface, reminding us that we might not be trying hard enough, that we may be falling short, with only ourselves to blame.

A recent conception of mine is unrealisable. It certainly can't be made by me, which means I can consider it freely, without feeling bad about myself. It is a language project, of sorts. It would bring together every password currently being used by every human throughout the world. It's impossible not only because you would somehow need to know every password at once, but because passwords change all the time. The corpus would never stand still. As soon as you captured it, it would shift. A snapshot in time is the best you could hope for, unless, of course, you somehow managed to establish some form of livestream, a constantly updating database, evolving with the global population.

Imagine it was possible. Imagine what it might look like. How would you even present such a text? How many passwords are there in the world at any one time? Granted there are people with no access to electronic devices, or children too young to use technology, but most people with a password have more than one. Some have dozens. There are probably people with hundreds. Is it reasonable to suggest that with 7 billion people in the world there are at least 70 billion passwords in use at any time, each one guarding some virtual portal? Are there more?

I would want to display all these passwords at once, or as many as possible - some vast projection onto a sprawling wall or screen. You could build the display surface as high as the earth's atmosphere permitted, keep stacking it until you ran out of air, or maybe go even further than that. You could erect a modern day Babel to house those passwords, the top of the tower clipping the edges of satellite paths. Each password could be written on the tower's outer shell in tiny but legible font.

I don't know if that would even be enough. What do billions of words look like in physical space? To display them all, you might be forced to cycle through them, one in one out, or show them in sets, thousands at a time, until you'd managed to get through however many existed, and by the time you got to the end millions would have changed. Visitors to the exhibition would never be able to read them all. A lifetime of reading wouldn't be enough. A hundred lifetimes of reading might not be enough. Visitors would have to be content with the ones they glimpsed, use these few to imagine the rest.

What would they see? Dates of birth, no doubt. Dates corresponding to all manner of events, no longer linked to the events they once pointed to. Names of loved ones, beloved pets, favourite aunts dotted with special characters. 'Password' would appear frequently, like a repeating subtitle. '12345', and so on. Random configurations of letters and numbers and symbols generated by machines, the temporary passwords that never get changed. But then you'd also have the random words, the nonsense phrases, the expletives, the mistyped noun that forever locks its owner out. Every password would appear without context, essentially without meaning. They would come in different languages. A joke or a secret or a favourite band would be stripped of their significance, appearing alongside other meaningless strings. The only context a viewer could bring to this display would be that each password has been made to let someone in, somewhere, and to keep many others out.

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