You've punched your code into the ATM machine _ twice _ and twice had your password rejected.
It suddenly occurs to you that you've been tapping in your calling card number, but your mind goes blank as it searches for the ATM code.
One more error and your ATM card is history, held by the bank until you show up, in person, to grovel for it.
What to do?
Get out of there, advises Diana Goodwin, a local speech and language pathologist who gives seminars on memory techniques.
"Just walk away and try to relax," said Goodwin, who works for Morton Plant Mease Health Care in Clearwater. "The harder you work to remember a number, the more difficult it will be to find it. The worst thing to do is get stressed."
But stress over digital passwords has become a fact of life.
Between ATM passwords, voice mail, calling cards, security systems, fancy car locks, Internet access, e-mail address and gym lockers _ to name a few _ people are operating on digital overload.
And if you're in business, dealing with codes both at home and at work, you might be close to a short-circuit.
Goodwin, who teaches memory skills to children and adults, said most people can remember a maximum of seven digits at a time. Not coincidentally, that's exactly the number of digits in a phone number.
If, like most people, you're forced to remember far more than one phone number, Goodwin said a few tricks can help.
+ Pick a date that's important to you _ such as your child's birthday _ and use it for several codes to cut down on memory clutter.
+ Pick a favorite word and use it instead of numbers.
+ Numbers can resemble certain letters, said Goodwin, so take advantage of that similarity to remember pass codes and dates.
For instance, to remember an important date, like the year 1650, Goodwin converts the 6 to a C, 5 to a S and zero to O (she ignores the initial number, since it occurs in almost every year). Goodwin then translates those letters into a catchy phrase. CSO becomes Careful Sips Only, a cue that reminds her of the importance of 1650 _ the date tea drinking was introduced in England.
"People who are good with names and dates tend to get more respect than those that don't," said Goodwin. "It might seem silly, but if a number or password is important and you don't want to lose it, then work out a strategy. It makes life easier."
When memory tricks fail, there is a growing number of electronic personal information organizers on the market. These pocket-sized wizards do everything from storing phone numbers to keeping schedules, and Goodwin said there's no shame in resorting to them.
"But don't get one that's too complicated," she warns, "or you'll forget how to use them."
Spelling out the numbers
Clearwater memory expert Diana Goodwin says remembering passcodes can be made easy to associating the numbers with similar-looking letters.
1 looks like L 6 looks like C
2 looks like N 7 looks like F
3 looks like M 8 looks like B
4 looks like T 9 looks like G
5 looks like S 0 looks like O
Using this aid, the ATM passcode 7618 becomes FCLB. Make up a catchy phrase using these letters _ like Fat Cats Like Bacon _ and you'll be all set the next time you head to the ATM. Maybe.
March of numbers
Technology brings progress, but it also brings an endless sea of numbers. How the digit revolution began:
Advent of numbered addresses. Before, people went to post offices for mail addressed only by name and city.
First phone numbers are assigned. It would be years before a national standard is introduced.
Telephone and population growth prompts big cities to add digits. The way to reach the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York was to dial Pennsylvania-6-5000 or 736-5000.
First dial phones are introduced in Bell system. Caller dials numbers corresponding to the first two letters of the telephone exchange. To reach Chelsea-1203, dial 24-1203.
Dec. 1, 1936
First Social Security number is issued. Lowest number ever issued goes to Grace Owen of New Hampshire, 001-01-0001.
Direct long-distance calling is introduced and the nation is divided into area codes. Heavily populated areas get low area codes because they are quick to dial on rotary phones: New York 212; Los Angeles, 213.
July 1, 1963
ZIP codes (zoning improvement plan) are introduced.
First ATM introduced in Atlanta.
Post Office introduces Zip Plus 4 _ four more digits allowing mail to be routed to specific carrier routes or post office boxes.
Calling cards simplify payment of long-distance calls, but user must remember more numbers.
Sources: AT&T, Postal Service, Social Security Administration, American Bankers Association.