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Plastic gets me all keyed up
May 2006 259

RECENTLY staying at one of my favourite Renaissance Hotels in London, the plastic card that is jokingly called a ‘key’ refused to work.

I tried to pull it out slowly, then very fast, then wiping the swipe-strip to make sure, it was clean and trying again.
The door remained closed and a red light flashed as if to say: ‘Go away, you are not wanted. Keep Out!’ But, this was my room and I was paying a substantial amount for the privilege of using it.
The reception was a long trek away, so I wandered along the corridor and found a housekeeping maid. Of course, like in most major cities of the developed world, housekeeping personnel rarely speak much of the language of the country in which they work, so I made gestures with my hands miming opening a door.
She looked quite bewildered at me, so I guided her back to my room and eventually she produced a master card, which opened the door.
It started me thinking of the good old days, when we used to be given a key with a large knob on the end of it, so no one could go away with our key, usually cumbersome items, but at least they never failed to open the door, thus no need to summon hotel staff.
In fact, we would all be pretty helpless without keys.
Keys nowadays have taken on all sort of shapes and sizes and sometimes we merely have to push buttons to open a lock. I have, for some reason, always been fascinated by door locks and keys, not the plastic kind, which my husband sticks on boards as decorations in his office, but ‘proper’ keys.
I have collected quite a few metal locks and keys, mostly made in India, from the Sharjah Soukh. They make great souvenirs and most are quite old too. The oldest locks date back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians and were made of wood. The Greeks and the Chinese also made locks and Roman locks and keys of metal have been found in the UK. Later, the English king, Henry VIII, used to take his own personal lock and key with him on his travels and a lock-smith would be summoned to fit them to his bed room door, wherever he was staying.
Keyless locks are not a new phenomenon, but date back around 300 years, thus the plastic cards are continuing a centuries-old tradition – believe it or not.
Plastic cards will no doubt be replaced with fingerprint and eye-scan recognition instruments and equipment, but we will still retain them for satellite TV, access cards, credit cards or ATM cards and we still need a key to start our cars, but I suspect that will change in the near future, as voice recognition technology moves further ahead.
The hotel key cards are symbolic of the throw-away, one-use usage of today's world. Can you contemplate throwing away one of those large old keys? Sometimes we might forget to hand in the smaller keys and had to drop them in the post box for the postal service to deliver back to the hotel.
I still have a key to the front door of my house in England, but I have read that some of the new apartments being built in Dubai will have E-technology, which will mean a keyless form of entry.
Soon we will have just our mobile phones pass a code bar to gain entry. In Finland, I understand that motorists pay for petrol by swiping their mobiles past a detector.
We are living in a world of plastic cards. Look into your wallet and I am sure you will find at least four of such cards.
Nowadays even when you attend a sporting event, the previous stubs of tickets are being replaced buy cards bearing your photograph, which have to be examined by a security guard at the gate.
That's what happened to me at the recent Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament and in the UK soccer season cards have all gone plastic as have all the sports clubs in Dubai.
They tell me this whole business is all a question of recognition sometimes for genuine security reasons, but mostly I feel for prestige like the stickers on car windows. Most of the clubs in Dubai give their members badges.
There is no end to the plastic cards that one accumulates including point cards or hotel and restaurant discount cards. I even have a hospital card with a number, which will eventually be developed into an all-embracing card, which will take my temperature and blood pressure.
Moneywise we are all now quite accustomed to using our plastic ATM cards to acquire cash and in Australia, they have gone one step further and made their currency notes out of plastic.
What next?

Speaking Out by Jonna Simon




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