Hacked Off

Can one ever escape the workaday grind, successfully avoid slipping over the edge to descend into the chaos I wrote about a little while ago or even manage merely to keep one’s cool despite provocation? There are so many things sent to try us! I went away over Easter weekend to spend some time with my wider family. I did take my computer – and, I regret to admit, my iPhone and my iPad – not because I intended to spend the entire weekend working, but so I could write some talks on the relatively long train journeys to and fro (and the iPad doubles as my Kindle for reading material). I was intending to unwind and switch off from the workaday. Imagine my fury, then, to find late on the Saturday night my Twitter notifications were filling up with kind people telling me my account had been hacked.  Ditto my email inbox.  I appreciate their helpfulness in pointing out the problem; my fury was not directed at them!  Of course the simple moral is I should switch off notifications and never look at my email when away. That way I would not have discovered this trying fact until back in the formal world of work, but of course things don’t divide that straightforwardly into work and play.

The Twitter problem itself was easily resolved – indeed Twitter itself seems to have known (how?) and reset my password while I slept. That did at least mean there was only one (I believe) offending tweet hawking diet pills to my followers sent illicitly under my twitterhandle. I didn’t lose any sleep over it, literally, as I hardly felt this was a matter requiring instant action on my part. But it annoyed me more than somewhat to feel that a rare long weekend when I wasn’t intending to get my laptop out was frustrated by someone’s idiotic malevolence.

Of course that raises the vexed question of how much one really switches off, literally and metaphorically, when on holiday. How wise is it to have access to any electronic device to connect one to the working world when temporarily out of it? Personally I subscribe to the view, which fellow OT blogger Steve Caplan articulated a while back, that being able to stay in contact is more relaxing than being explicitly disconnected.  I like to know that there isn’t a disaster waiting to happen, no chaos getting loose or crises building up ready to burst as I walk back through my office door. That position is absolutely fine as long as it applies. The problem arises when you read your email, in order to reach this happy relaxed state, only to find a vitriolic referee’s report burning up the space or a query which really, really needs a response before you get back. If that happens then of course it would have been better not to know, rather than to know and either still do nothing or feel obliged to spend an hour or two’s precious vacation time on resolving the problem.

One of the good things about Easter (and indeed Christmas) is that, by and large, the rest of the (UK) academic community is also on holiday. The likelihood of a peremptory demand from an irate committee chair or head of department requiring your immediate attention appearing is low. Not so breaks taken at other, less formulaic, times of year. Nevertheless, despite all this, I do tend to keep a watchful eye on my email even though I just about never do anything more than read and file – or even better read and trash – what is arriving.

Twitter is of course another kind of beast. I really feel absolutely no need to look at it from one week’s end to the other if I have better things to do with my time, which includes relaxing. (Admittedly it took me a few months after first signing up to reach this happy, laid-back state). It is, as someone explained to me early on, entirely ephemeral. I don’t expect to send my followers holiday snaps, or accounts of the weather from wherever I am. I don’t usually feel obliged to explain what wonderful exhibitions I have visited, or the unusual birds I have just seen from a bird hide, although it is possible I might wax lyrical about something vaguely scientific (walking round Green’s Mill, for instance) in a rare burst of 140 characters. And my deliberate absence from Twitter is probably why I felt so particularly incensed to discover at around 10pm on Saturday night that my account had been hacked.

I am naïve enough to have no idea of why someone would want to expend effort on sneaking into my account and sending out a single Tweet about diet pills under my name. Judging by the messages I saw, some one/organisation had simultaneously attacked a range of people including Nature Physics, although whether all of us had the same sort of ridiculous tweets sent out falsely under our names I have no idea. It is comforting to realise how many people saw this tweet and thought that it really didn’t look like my kind of thing and hence I must have been hacked. And then tell me; so thank you one and all.



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One Response to Hacked Off

  1. CT says:

    I think the worst thing I ever did was install my work email on my electronic devices! Like you, I like to know what’s going on when away from the office, but the hours I have lost to it are just plain silly. I suppose I should be brave and delete my account from said devices so that I can be free of it, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Stupid, huh? I am at least trying to make the effort not to reply to emails when on leave/at weekends/when I should be spending quality time at home. Unless I absolutely have to. Like if it’s something important. Or urgent. Or… Gah!

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