Key literacy

I’m sitting at the table one morning, hands cradling a warm mug, that rich smell of coffee hanging in the air. The sun is shining down on a brand new day, only the chittering of birds offering their choral backdrop to an otherwise blank canvas. Then a vibration on the windowsill accompanied by a tinny melody. Dad’s calling.

‘The battery in my car key’s dead,’ he tells me, apparently standing in front of his locked car on the car park, desperately pressing the transponder. ‘Can you find the number to call the AA? I can’t get in the car.’

‘Why don’t you just use the key?’

‘How?’

‘Put the key in the lock and turn it.’

‘Oh, does that work?’

I was reminded of this little exchange, which already happened many months ago, by a similar but rather less amusing news report from New Zealand. A couple found themselves ‘locked’ in their car without the key, and believing there to be no way out, resorted to pomping the horn to attract attention, and attempting to smash through the window with a car jack. They didn’t think of unlocking the door in the regular manner.

Eventually the couple were rescued by neighbours after over 12 hours in the vehicle, with the women already unconscious and the man having difficulties breathing. According to the emergency services, doubtless a touch on the dramatic side, their little misadventure could have proven fatal.

How is it that we can so easily forget some of our most rudimentary tools when they are superceded? What makes us forget things we otherwise take for granted in our day to day lives so readily? These two stories may occupy two extremes in terms of their potential consequences – from the mildly humorous to the near fatal – yet whilst most of us are liable to shake our heads or brazenly laugh at others’ apparent ignorance and stupidity, it’s a situation we readily find ourselves in as we become increasingly reliant on life’s many little technological gizmos to get us through the day. As the mechanical is replaced by the digital, will any of us remember how to fix things when the machine stops?

We compare many things in life to riding a bicycle: you never forget. At least, that is, as long as it isn’t chained up, in which case you’d better hope you can remember how the key works.

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