Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Ed Park’s “Slide to Unlock” was originally published in the June 10 & 17, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.
I know little about Ed Park. I believe the first thing I read knowing it was by him was the introduction to the forthcoming NYRB Classics edition of Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary. It was a unique, spritely introduction, so I wasn’t surprised by the tone of “Slide to Unlock,” the shortest story in this issue. The story is a nice concept story with a hint of tragedy.
The central concept here is a twist on a “life flashes before your eyes” moment. Here it’s not the life itself that flashes before the man’s eyes but rather the various passwords. Here’s how it begins:
You cycle through your passwords. They tell the secret story. What’s most important to you, the things you think can’t be deciphered. Words and numbers stored in the lining of your heart.
As we move through the story we get a sense of who this person is. The familiar methods of coming up with a password — which we think are so private — are found here too, allowing us to relate with the character, but it’s the small details that allow us to get a sense of who this man is, the touches of sadness in his life:
Best friend from high school.
Best friend from college
Year you last saw your daughter.
Year you last saw your daughter plus her name.
You’ll notice that “Stop stalling” interjected in the above quote. What does it mean? You’ll find out soon enough if you read the story.
I have to say that when I finished “Slide to Unlock” I thought, “Is that it?” But sitting on it, rereading it, and in the process of writing about it I’ve come to have a bit more affection for it. It seems to me to be much more than a concept story that shows how technology affects our perception of life, or how our life interacts with technology. It’s the sadness at its center, the reduction of a life mixed with the disrespect for a life, that lifts it up above the “clever.”