The gate at the top of the stairs.

The gate at the top of the stairs...

The complex where I live is a mix of apartment and townhouse-style condominiums, with a series of locked iron gates providing access to the latter. Though I myself live in the ground-level courtyard, there’s another level of townhomes directly above me, along with some nice greenery and even an impromptu vegetable garden or two. And to access this oasis of calm in the big city you must pass through a gate like the one seen above.

One night last week I walked up those very stairs and found a rather sheepish-looking individual waiting outside of it. As I strive to do with fellow human beings whenever I can, I assumed the best:

“Lock’s giving you trouble, huh?”

It’s true, the knob on this particular gate is so loose that it’s difficult — sometimes impossible — to get an inserted key to catch on the lock. I reached into a pocket for my keychain but apparently I didn’t have to; after giving me a quick once-over the other gentleman squeezed his arm through the iron bars and reached down to open the gate from the inside. No key required.

I offered him a surprised thank-you as he held the gate open for me, and as he continued on ahead my surprise turned to anger. Though this stranger had effectively broken in to the place I call home I wasn’t mad at him — I was angry with myself for not being so clever. I’d fumbled with it so many times, and more than a few I’d given up and moved on to a different entrance. In all those botched attempts why did it never occur to me to just reach through and open it from the inside?

Then I started thinking about how the gate itself was a complete farce. Faced with an intruder armed with basic problem-solving skills (which I apparently lack) it had categorically failed to fulfill its sole purpose, to protect the people and property within. It provided my neighbours and I no actual protection, just the illusion thereof.

By now you might be thinking that the physical gate in this little tale is analogous to the software locks and restrictions on our digital media. And you’d be exactly right. Whether or not you equate someone’s physical belongings to a movie, song or commercial software is up to you; the sole point I’m trying to make here is that all locks — physical or otherwise — can be broken; many of them much easier than you’d think.

Oh, and it turns out that the clever fellow who circumvented the gate did indeed have a friend on the inside — we crossed paths again the very next evening. I’m grateful that he deemed me worthy enough to share his exploit; now I in turn must share it with the management of my complex.

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