Locks & Public & Private Space

Shuyler Towne tells the MIT Center for Civic Media lunch audience the story of how his interest in physical locks morphed into digital locks when presentations about the physical objects began getting more questions about digital security measures than about the items. His collection’s genesis is a link between locks and his family’s name. Picking is all about experimenting with the tumblers and tension. Breaking electronic security is very similar.

Locksmithing began to morph into a more technical field. It’s thought locks originated in Egypt, but many common locks today come from an Assyrian lock. Locks were meant to be a secondary guard in tandem with human beings. Locks are often more about a social contract than a physical implement to entry. Many lockpicks can easily get through most locks. Why they don’t has to do with social reasons.

The French garnered a reputation for building gorgeous locks. Locksmiths still have very powerful guilds in some areas.

How do we preserve open conversations about security? The separation between private and public space is eroding quite rapidly.

Perfect security came about in the 1700s. By the end of the 1800s, it was gone.

Q: Is the fact that locks can be picked a feature not a bug?
A: They were not necessarily invented that way.

We’re willing to have public and private spaces and let others have privacy because we want privacy ourselves. Invitations to private space are culturally important.

Someone asked if the government is reversing our notions of privacy. Discussion indicates that while it might seem like they are, they might just be taking a different approach.

Another bit of history: locksmithing took off in Connecticut in the mid-ish 1800s, but didn’t become popular across the country until around the end of that century.

A nifty visualization exercise: Pretend you traveling down a corridor and come to a doorway or gateway with no door or gate. Pass through. How do you feel? Keep going. You come to another entryway, but this one has a door that is wide open. Continue on your way. How do you feel having walked through an open door? Next, you encounter a closed door with no lock. Open the door and go through. How does that feel? The next closed door has a lock, but it is unlocked. Open the door. Pass through. How does that feel? Keep going. You next come to a door that is closed and locked. But you find you have the key. Unlock the door, open it, and go through. How does that feel? Keep going. The next door has a lock and is locked. Make the door open, either by picking the lock, forcing the lock, or breaking the door down. Continue on your way through the door. How does that feel?

Along the way, do you make decisions about whether the space is open, public, private … etc.? What are those decisions like? What are the emotions behind them? How would these rooms change if you encountered people or personal possessions in them?

My power died during the talk and I couldn’t find a live outlet, so some of these notes are from memory instead of being live.

[I can't help smirking when Shuyler mentions his talk at Foo Camp since I'm one of the BarCamp Boston organizers and BarCamp came about as a reaction to Foo Camp.]

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