Evan Newell

I’m a senior now, which means I’m kind of old. Old enough to remember the strip before it was renovated, old enough to remember the brief (and miserable) coaching tenure of Donnie Tyndall and old enough to remember a world without two-factor authentication.

Before UT switched to two-factor, life was simpler. There weren’t all of these extra hoops to jump through just to log into Canvas. I wasn’t asked to make a password that’s sprawls for 12-16 characters. There was no app to keep me tethered to my phone all the time.

We just had a single password. That was it. Short and sweet. That was all we needed, and it was outrageous to think that anyone would want a more inconvenient, complicated system, right?

Well, I’m not so sure.

People love to hate on two-factor authentication, but I think it gets too much flack. When we attack 2FA, not only is it just about the most uninteresting small talk you can have with someone on campus, but it also feels like a misguided conversation about what our university should be doing.

Like I said before, I was around before two-factor, which means I’m also old enough to remember when our online accounts were less secure. For years, they were more susceptible to hackers and breaches, and our personal, financial and academic information was at risk. This was always a problem, and just because I didn’t know about it or understand it at the time doesn’t mean that it wasn’t important — and it doesn’t mean that it didn’t need to change.

But it’s understandable that this new process would receive pushback. The loathing of 2FA was not just because it required a change in behavior, but because it warranted a change in our expectations and understanding of digital security. It demanded us to come to terms with the complexity and risk of the digital world, and that’s no small task.

We as a society and as a species are resistant to change of all kinds, but maybe two-factor authentication is just a small example. All around the globe, we particularly see resistance when we talk about environmental policy.

In our efforts to make a more environmentally friendly world, we have placed regulations on emissions, dangerous chemicals, natural resource usage and the like. And the people whose lives would be easier without these restrictions are often upset.

Like two-factor authentication, these policies create inconveniences, but unlike 2FA, these added barriers can be life-changing. They affect not just governments and businesses that lose revenue and stability, but also individuals who lose their jobs and find themselves with a set of skills that is no longer in demand.

Environmental regulations acknowledge that we need to change our behaviors and our expectations about business and the environment to make a better world, and that doesn’t come without a price.

The people who speak out against climate policy are often villainized, labeled as ignorant and cast out by many of us, but are they fundamentally that different than those of us who complain about 2FA?

Both groups are looking at a problem they may not fully understand and a set of solutions that make their lives more difficult, and they complain and condemn because of their understandable frustrations.

I want to be clear about what I’m not saying. I am not saying we should stop pursuing environmental policies because they’re harmful to people’s economic wellbeing. I am not saying that it’s entirely unreasonable to be upset about two-factor authentication. And I am not saying there aren’t legitimate problems within both environmentalism and 2FA.

What I am saying is that we need to be empathetic with people affected by big changes like climate policy, and we also need to be better at handling small changes like two-factor authentication. Change is hard, and we’re all kind of bad at it.

The regular readers of my column (yes, all eight of you) might say that this piece is redundant — that I’ve harped on the difficulties of change and complexity in plenty of columns before. They would be right, but I do this on purpose.

I dwell on these topics so much because while the details may change, they get at something so important. They bring to light a fundamentally important question that persists throughout history: change is inevitable, so how do we respond when it happens?

Different changes warrant different responses for sure, but some things always hold. We have to find ways to deal with changes that inconvenience us for the greater good, and we have to be better at handling the small changes — or we’ll never be ready for the big ones.

Evan Newell is a senior majoring in Chemical Engineering. He can be reached at enewell2@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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