Two or three times a day, I get an email whose basic structure is as follows:
Prof. Aaronson, given your expertise, we’d be incredibly grateful for your feedback on a paper / report / grant proposal about quantum computing. To access the document in question, all you’ll need to do is create an account on our proprietary DigiScholar Portal system, a process that takes no more than 3 hours. If, at the end of that process, you’re told that the account setup failed, it might be because your browser’s certificates are outdated, or because you already have an account with us, or simply because our server is acting up, or some other reason. If you already have an account, you’ll of course need to remember your DigiScholar Portal ID and password, and not confuse them with the 500 other usernames and passwords you’ve created for similar reasons—ours required their own distinctive combination of upper and lowercase letters, numerals, and symbols. After navigating through our site to access the document, you’ll then be able to enter your DigiScholar Review, strictly adhering to our 15-part format, and keeping in mind that our system will log you out and delete all your work after 30 seconds of inactivity. If you have trouble, just call our helpline during normal business hours (excluding Wednesdays and Thursdays) and stay on the line until someone assists you. Most importantly, please understand that we can neither email you the document we want you to read, nor accept any comments about it by email. In fact, all emails to this address will be automatically ignored.
Every day, I seem to grow crustier than the last.
More than a decade ago, I resolved that I would no longer submit to or review for most for-profit journals, as a protest against the exorbitant fees that those journals charge academics in order to buy back access to our own work—work that we turn over to the publishers (copyright and all) and even review for them completely for free, with the publishers typically adding zero or even negative value. I’m happy that I’ve been able to keep that pledge.
Today, I’m proud to announce a new boycott, less politically important but equally consequential for my quality of life, and to recommend it to all of my friends. Namely: as long as the world gives me any choice in the matter, I will never again struggle to log in to any organization’s website. I’ll continue to devote a huge fraction of my waking hours to fielding questions from all sorts of people on the Internet, and I’ll do it cheerfully and free of charge. All I ask is that, if you have a question, or a document you want me to read, you email it! Or leave a blog comment, or stop by in person, or whatever—but in any case, don’t make me log in to anything other than Gmail or Facebook or WordPress or a few other sites that remain navigable by a senile 35-year-old who’s increasingly fixed in his ways. Even Google Docs and Dropbox are pushing it: I’ll give up (on principle) at the first sight of any login issue, and ask for just a regular URL or an attachment.
Oh, Skype no longer lets me log in either. Could I get to the bottom of that? Probably. But life is too short, and too precious. So if we must, we’ll use the phone, or Google Hangouts.
In related news, I will no longer patronize any haircut place that turns away walk-in customers.
Back when we were discussing the boycott of Elsevier and the other predatory publishers, I wrote that this was a rare case “when laziness and idealism coincide.” But the truth is more general: whenever my deepest beliefs and my desire to get out of work both point in the same direction, from here till the grave there’s not a force in the world that can turn me the opposite way.