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.”
Everyone can relate to this story. If you think of your brain as a computer with all that stuff stored in it, what pops up is usually what is most significant for you. Ed Park was able to let us know a peron in one page. Quite a skill.
I agree. It’s a nice little triple layered conceit. At first, an amusing little tale of the foibles of modern techno life. Second, as pointed about above, a trip into someone’s life and what’s important to them and also some trauma. Third, the punch-line: He’s being mugged while this all happens.
At the four-fifths point of “Slide to Unlock”, standing in front of the ATM with the mugger behind him, Ed Park suggests that a really good password might be “Year you finally got your shit together.” He built to that, and it works – makes you worry for the guy – that after all these years, and he’s finally making his life work, and he could lose it all. It takes so long in this country these days to get your act together. Or – we are so devoted to that idea – that we will finally remake ourselves, will finally have our life ticking like a Swiss watch – that this line is just the raison d’etre of this story. For me.
So as for ‘slide to unlock’ – I’m hearing that Apple command. And again, we Americans live with that innocent faith that all we have to do is make a sweet slide into second base, and we’ll have it made. But Ed Park knows different. Getting your act together is something that “finally” happens, after, one surmises. quite a few sophomoric endeavors, bad breaks, and genuine mistakes.
This was only the third issue of the New Yorker I have purchased. This was also the first story of all the issues to move me the way it did. There was something that made me feel very insignificant, yet very touched at the same time. Everyone in the world has the same but different answers at the same time. The most secretive yet the most common. It truly made me rethink the importance of my own answers, yet still relating to the character at the same time. I only wish the story was longer