The Keymaster and the Gatekeeper

If the physical media of the Atari cartridge or gaming system forms a key component to the history of our digital world, there are few things more mechanical than the key. Some time about a month ago, the authorities changed the key and lock mechanism on the “teaching station” in the University of North Dakota’s new snazzy Scale-Up classroom. The email was simple and routine. The lock had been changed and new keys would presumably circulate. I have to admit that I half paid attention to the announcement, figuring that it was a room that relied heavily on digital technology and the new keys would be circulated as a matter of course.

This was wrong, and after classes were cancelled all day because of snow, I found the teaching station was locked for my night class. Without a key, I called classroom technology services and they announced that they did not have a key. Fortunately I had a ringer in my class who had a key, but I still did not.

The simple mechanical movement of lock marks a key divide between my access to the digital world and being trapped, helpless (almost) in an analogue realm. The culminating scenes in Ghostbusters immediately come to mind, as the transformed Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) lurched around New York City asking anyone he met if they were Gatekeeper. He was the Vinz, Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer, Volguus Zildrohar, Lord of the Sebuillia, and he desperately needed the Gatekeeper. At one point he declares to a horse in Central Park “Wait for the sign. Then our prisoners will be released!”.

As the 2014 Day of Digital Humanities winds down across the world, I am struck by the continued value of the analogue.  Only the Keymaster can fulfill the needs of the Gatekeeper.

On days like this is valuable that we ask ourselves, are we the Gatekeepers or the Keymasters?