Sunday, June 24, 2018

Verhulst column: The lock on our lives

I've been thinking about my combination lock a lot. I keep it on a locker at work. Twenty or more times a week I spin the dial right, then left, then right, and the lock drops open with a satisfying "chunk." The first time I used that lock — in junior high gym class — we were still sending men to the moon.

In my pocket is an iPhone 5s. It was the best smartphone ever, the Next Big Thing — until a few days ago. Now Apple has announced a bigger, faster, cooler, more powerful, sexier iPhone. It goes on sale this week, and it's the next Next Big Thing until the next one next year. My 8½-month-old phone — if it were a baby, it wouldn't yet be walking or talking — is already hobbling into its senescence.

My lock, though, same as it ever was, does only one thing but does it well. It locks my locker. It's 100 percent compatible; it has fit every locker I've ever used —junior high, high school, college, grad school, work, every one, every time. Sure, it has a bit of rust and the black paint on its face is fading, but it performs as well in 2014 as it did in 1971. It's 100 percent secure; it has never been hacked. And the combination is stored in my brain, not in the cloud. My lock will probably survive me.

And my iPhone? If I'm reading my Social Security actuarial tables correctly, it will likely be the iPhone model 32 or maybe 32s that my family will pry from my cold, dead hands when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil.

This is already my second iPhone, and it's a marvel I can't imagine living without. It is a computer in my pocket, a GPS unit, a mobile email, text-messaging and Tweeting machine. It wakes me up, it gives me the weather forecast, it measures and maps my runs, it alerts me to the latest news. It even talks to me and answers my questions. But before I know it, I will need to get a new model — not because of iPhone envy but because the old one simply won't be able to do its job anymore.

I learned that lesson 20 years ago when our family got our first computer. I stupidly assured my wife that other computers would no doubt soon be faster and more powerful, but at least ours would always be able to do what it does now. That was a lie, though I honestly didn't know it. I didn't realize that new operating systems, new Web browsers and new software would require a more powerful computer simply to be able to do the same things as before. The old stuff that used to work? No longer supported. No longer usable. Might as well get ready to cart it to the next hazardous waste and electronics drop-off day.

As for my lock? Twirl the dial right, left, right … "chunk." Yup, it still does its job, not better, not worse, not differently. It just does it. This is not a Luddite argument for the olden days. But it would be good to find a better balance in what we value, to seek out not only the shiny and the new but to praise the tried and true, the things — and yes, the people — that keep enduring. They are like my lock, for which an old-school Apple slogan is apt: "It just works."

Contact Jim Verhulst at [email protected] Follow @jimverhulst. He'll get both on his iPhone.

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