Saturday, July 15, 2023

Still Life with Robin: My So-Code Life

Cell Phone Art, (Andy Warhol Museum,
Pittsburgh, PA
By Peggy Robin

Just the other day, I was looking back over the text messages on my phone, trying to find someone’s number, and it hit me, as I was scrolling backwards over the recent messages, that the last half-dozen or so messages were all the same thing: access codes to this or that account. It seems every time I go online – whether to my medical account at “My Chart” to check the time of a doctor’s appointment, or to my online bank to look up a financial transaction, or to any type of secure account to change a password, I can’t log in until I request and receive and then enter in a 6-digit security code sent to my mobile phone.

Here’s my complaint – and let me preface it by saying, it’s not about the few seconds involved in the log-in. I’m a chronic complainer (yes, I know, and I’m willing to own it!) but I do recognize the necessity of this extra step to keep my accounts secure from fakers and hackers and online thieves. So what’s wrong with the text-a-code system? Let me explain by example. Here’s a sample of a text message with a security verification code:

99217 #BoA: DO NOT share this sign-in code. We will NEVER call you or text you for it. Code 285990. Reply HELP if you didn’t request it.

You see what the problem is? The text message begins with a 5-digit number. So naturally, I start typing that number into the boxes meant for the actual code. Which, if you open the text message and read it over carefully, is the 6-digit number 285990. But I have to finish typing the 5 wrong digits and hit enter, before I realize that the numbers I’ve typed are not the code. Then I must go back to the message on my phone, reopen it, and look for the 6-digit code in the middle of the text message.

Of course, by this time, the text message has already faded from view, and my phone has re-locked itself. So now I must re-enter the 4-digit access code to my phone (well, truth be told, I seldom do that anymore, since my fingerprint on the home button works just as well and is much faster). Once I’ve unlocked the phone, I need to go back to the text message, and this time around, ignore those numbers at the outset of the message, find the right numbers, and type them into the six boxes provided. Except, now I’m a bit flustered and am prone to mis-reading one of the digits or making a typo as I hit the number keys. I am, generally speaking, a fast and accurate typist….for everything except numbers. It gets worse as I get older and my eyesight’s not as sharp.

There’s a quick cure for this problem -- so obvious, it doesn’t take a tech expert to see it: If you are being asked to verify it’s you by typing in a multi-digit code, the text message that contains that code should not begin with the wrong numbers! It should start with these words: “Here is your code,” followed by the 6 digits of the code. What is the point of that misleading opening number except to confuse and slow down the log-in of anyone over 50?

At this point, I wouldn’t blame you for asking, “Is this the most trivial complaint ever posted in the ‘Still Life with Robin’ column? Maybe. But here are some other, pretty good contenders for the “most trivial complaint” prize:

Wait, I think I found a winner! It’s this column, conveying my complaint about web forms that require you to type in your 10-digit phone number but will reject it if it doesn’t fit the website’s all-digits-no spaces format:


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.


  1. The five digit number is the phone number the SMS Short Code (like a phone number) that is sending you the message. The current version of iOS is smart enough to read the message and offer to type the code for you via predictive text.