I have a basic question to ask. Is the ‘undo’ function a good thing or a bad thing? I was as happy as the next guy when I was first introduced to the idea that you could make a decision and immediately undo it if you weren’t happy with the outcome. How many of us are old enough to remember leaving that awkward answering machine message and wished we had the ability to to have those few indecisive moments back for a second crack at it. Hell, I’ve used it at least a half a dozen times into this first paragraph. Now, years later, with a society that’s very comfortable – perhaps even dependent – on the ability to undo and redo up to your last 15 decisions (at least in Photoshop), are we better off because of it? And if so, how?
In my early art school days, I remember approaching each stroke on the watercolor paper with great care. There was no going back after the swipe of the brush. I remember being totally immersed in the moment and being completely present and aware… because I had to. Some strokes were great, some were just OK, and Some I would like to have had back. But all of them I had to live with. Looking back on the work now, I am as pleased with the many bad strokes as I am with the occasional genius strokes. I could never have foreseen feeling this way at that time. It was a snapshot of who and where I was at the time. I can even remember The exact moment of some of those strokes… Good and bad. And now that I have reached the age where regrets are no longer for things that I did, but now for things that I didn’t do, that’s a precious gift. I have since created many pieces of art in Photoshop and I can’t remember a single solitary moment that was involved in all the layers and undoing and redoing to get that perfect image. While the results are superior, the process has been cheapened. But that’s only half of the problem. My second concern goes potentially much deeper.
I have become a big fan of Ted talks in recent months. If you haven’t seen any of these, do yourself a favor and download the app today. It’s the best 15 minute gift you could give your brain. They have amazing things to say about the technological advances that are happening in the world today. They also have intriguing talks on the state of our society in the midst of these technological changes. One talk, in particular, struck me recently. Techno-sociologist, Zeynep Tufekci’s Ted Talk entitled ‘Online Social Change: Easy to Organize, Hard to Win’ makes the case technology has empowered social activism and,paradoxically, weakened them simultaneously. She talked about the Occupy Wall Street movement and how it had failed to bring about any lasting social change whereas the civil rights movement had affected great change in its day and time. She attributed that to the fact that the occupy Wall Street movement was relatively quick, cheap, and easy to organize through social media. By contrast, the civil rights movement was years in the making with much blood, sweat, and tears providing the foundation. By the time large groups are organized to be led by Martin Luther King Jr., there had already been years of people working tirelessly to bring about that moment. Also, not to mention, with great personal sacrifice and under constant threat of death. Which brings me to my second point about the undo function – consequences, or lack thereof. If you know any of your decisions can be made, even the smallest ones, without any consequences, are we robbing ourselves of important teaching moments. Did you know that we live in a day and age where you can select a used car online, have it delivered to your home, and driven around for a week as your very own and can then tell them you’ve changed your mind and they will come and pick it up from you. Although this is one undo that I’m in favor of, imagine trying to explain that business model and concept to your grandfather. My son recently went in for a root canal. He is only eight and these are still his baby teeth, so I wasn’t pleased. But at least, I thought to myself, he will now experience the pain that I did when I had my root canal some years ago and that will be a deterrent in the future. Much to my chagrin, we arrived at the dentist whereupon he was given a muscle relaxer 30 minutes prior to the surgery. And then was administered laughing gas when he made it to the chair. He never even felt the needle. He bounded out afterwards into the waiting room with a big smile on his face toting a stuffed teddy bear telling us how he couldn’t wait to come back. I felt cheated. That is, until I got the bill, then I felt robbed.
I’m a late-in-life dad trying to cope with all these rapidfire changes that are coming my way. Made even more challenging raising an eight-year-old in the midst of it all. I’m just not so sure that the undo function is as great as I once thought it was.