On the one hand, I’m impressed. I’m impressed with the vast array of interconnected internet technologies which can be embedded one inside another. I’m impressed that Google has produced online applications that do many of the same things as MS Office, and which can be used free online from anywhere and easily embedded into a web page. I’m impressed that these new macbooks have little cameras in them so that people can record video logs or chat with other people across the world. It’s amazing and wonderful, all the things computers can do.
But then sometimes I find myself saying to my computer: “Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity! Especially electronic devices!” Like when I find out my operating system is too old to run the new internet video software, and my computer is too old to be worth using with the new operating system. Or when I realize that some of my files are in a format nobody uses anymore, even though I only made them four years ago. Then I long for a book with printing on paper and sewn binding that’s a hundred years old. Those don’t become obsolete: they simply acquire character. If I have a great novel or a good painting it won’t cease being what it is simply because there are also newer books and paintings. If it’s really good that is, not just trendy. It might eventually, after hundreds of years, crumble or the varnish might blacken, but that’s natural and I can’t resent it — it’s just the natural course of events. Is it the natural course of events that all our file systems change every five to ten years so that a new computer is necessary in order to read what somebody else is written? I suppose so, if they’re going to be better and more convenient until the next new thing comes along. So that we can have that video chat in a higher resolution or edit it in a more streamlined fashion. A few years ago I suppose we had to make the old technologies worthless and incompatible in order to use video and image editing programs at all.
I’m trying to organize a very complicated schedule of classes and projects for work, and anyone who knows me well probably also knows that detailed, complicated organizational schemes don’t come naturally to me. I tend to go into them with the feeling that they’re so transitory, I’m probably going to put a lot of time and effort into whatever the system is, and then, just as I’m learning it, it’s going to have to change, and my system is going to be just another pile of partially decomposing megabyte junkyards. This is at least partly born out by experience. Most of us at least feel the pull of our partly completed physical projects and hope someday to finish them or get rid of them, but personal websites seem a realm almost entirely inhabited by “hi, my name is photonlord, this site is under construction,” accompanied by a site map of what would have been there if the author had gotten to it and some mostly broken links. Perhaps there are some little cheesy graphics and a cheesy background as well. Sometimes, if the author is artistically inclined, the layout is quite nice (though outdated), with lovely hand drawn photo manipulated graphics.
I think sometimes that the world of Education, higher and lower, is a great contributer to this trend. No sooner has a student perfected her collection of electronic portfolios for all her classes than she finds out that a) her account has expired and there’s no viable way to transfer all of her collected work to another place short of building a site from scratch, b) Nobody would be interested in looking at any of it even if it were still there, because nobody wants to see twelve projects at three sites if they can possibly help it — not even her own parents — and, c) her new assignment as a student teacher uses an entirely different system, where she must rebuild anything she considers valuable manually.
As any crafty sort of person with even the slightest disorganized tilt knows, this problem is not exclusive to technology, but I think technology tends to make it worse, because it undermines confidence that if I can just get this system down then it will be helpful for years to come, in favor of *shrug* I guess I’ll use this system because it’s the one people around me are using, but I bet next year none of this stuff I’m making will be worth anything anyway.