The Irreplaceable Lock
Allison Cannon, Division 3, College sophomore

A key and lock is not necessarily the object that would immediately come to mind when someone asks, “what is the most important piece of technology?” Technology in the eyes of most Americans is electronic; and yes, there are fancy electronic locks but that is not the kind of lock I am talking about. I am talking about the kind of lock and key that has existed for centuries. The kind forged by blacksmiths and picked by expert safe crackers. The simple deadbolt, the plain old padlock, the widely used knob lock, all forms of the most important piece of technology ever invented.

When I was attempting to choose the piece of technology I would write about my mind immediately went to my phone, then to my car. What about music? Or electricity? Those are modern luxuries I would not want to live without but the difference is that I can live without them. Every modern piece of technology that I can think of is a luxury I can live without. That is why I felt that I must I travel back in time and chose the unassuming lock as my choice for the most important piece of technology of all time.

Yes, there are other pieces of technology that humans have created that are more essential than locks: such as tools like hammers that we invented during our transition from ape to man. Humans are a species that dominated the planet because of technology, therefore our existence is based on our ability to use technology. I think it is virtually impossible to pick one piece of technology that was the sole reason we rose to the top of the food chain. It is for that reason that I will avoid mentioning the technology that helps us to exist and focus on the technology that helps us to thrive.

The unassuming lock. I would bet you money that not a single other applicant will choose the lock. Poor lock, forgotten and underappreciated. I chose the lock because it is the basis upon which human society is able to function. Let me explain.

Political Theorist, Thomas Hobbes had a view of the state of nature that I completely agree with. Humans, in the state of nature (which is the existence of humans without any social structure or laws), are evil beings that steal from each other to ensure their own survival, ultimately destroying the other individual by taking away the necessities they need to survive. It is every man for himself in the state of nature. Only when a government is established can peace fall over the human population. The reason that the society can live in harmony is because the governing entity protects property rights. Property rights are the single most important factor in societal stability. If one were to analyze the countries of the world that are experiencing unrest, civil war and terrorism, one can see that those countries’ governments have a lack of control over their natural resources. Africa is a warzone with its vast amount of precious stones and the Middle East is falling apart with its uncontrolled oil drilling. To reiterate, unless property rights are protected, society cannot function.

It is easy to see where I am leading this argument. Even if the government does all it can to protect property rights there will always be those who decide to break the law and violate someone’s property rights. If the government does not have the capacity to track down and persecute every individual who breaks the law the society could perish. In this situation the society has two options: descend into chaos with everyone violating each other’s property rights, or, each member of society can protect themselves, with what? A lock.

Think about it. We lock our houses, our cars, our jewelry boxes, our safe’s, our money in the bank, I could go on and on. Society uses locks as its alternative to complete and udder destruction. Locks not only protect our property but they deter the attempt to steal in the first place. Locks cut down on the number of individuals who attempt to break the law therefore, alleviating pressure on the government to track down and persecute law-breakers. Locks also protect property even when people do attempt to steal. If the thief cannot break into the drawer, he/she won’t be able to steal the classified information inside.

The lock is a simple invention with complex consequences. Locks are a physical representation of society’s distrust of its members. Even though (democratic) societies have rules in place that most of the members of the society agree with, some individuals struggle with following the law. Using locks is a way that individuals can protect themselves even from people they are supposed to trust. To go back to the jewelry box example; people lock their jewelry away from family members that are supposed to be loyal to one another, yet, sometimes we feel the need to lock things away from everyone, no matter what their relation to us. Locks represent the human race’s inability to respect the property rights that allow society to function. We are, in essence, self-destructive creatures, intent on destroying the social platforms that allow us to co-exist. Without the lock we would fall subject to the selfish human nature within us to take from our neighbor. Until humans learn to follow our own rules and laws, we will be forced to lock away ourselves and our possessions or face the consequences of lack of property rights.

In conclusion, property rights are the basis upon which society functions. Locks help to enforce property rights allowing for humans to live in harmony with one another. Technology has transformed our world and I am extremely thankful to be living in a time where new and amazing technology is being invented all the time. Yet we must not forget where we have come from. We must not rely solely on these new technologies to be social for us. Electronic technology is taking the human out of humanity and making us walking IPhones. Yes technology can help improve our live but it must not be our lives. Children are being taught how to use an IPad before they learn to tie their shoes. This is utterly terrifying. Technology is meant to make our lives easier, not meaningless. I think everyone needs to take a second to remember that.

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