Just a few thoughts on why it is that I’m always feeling anxious when working at the computer, and why I’m not alone. I thought about this quite a bit recently when my trusty laptop died and I had to upgrade to a new version of Sibelius music scoring software, a program I’ve been using for years, because the old version on which I am quite competent just doesn’t run on the Mac platform. With the death of the old laptop, we are now all Mac, all the time with a new MacBook Pro Retina 15″ laptop replacing the last link to the PC world in our little world of computing.
Consider knitting for a minute. I learned to knit when I was 10. I wasn’t very good at it at first, but I got better through practice and now I feel confident I can knit anything if I just follow the instructions. There are new and better tools now and lots of interesting techniques out there of which I was completely unaware back when I learned, like circular needles, Entrelac and Moebius knitting for example, but if you gave me those same needles and yarn from 1968 (or 1668 for that matter), I could still knit with them successfully and make something useful. Also, after a knitting interregnum of almost 20 years, I was able to take up my needles and start knitting again as if I had never stopped. K2tog still means knit two together.
How different with computers: I first started working with computers at 16 in high school and did some simple programming, first in Fortran on CARDS and then Pascal in college. The language, tools and techniques I used then are of absolutely no use to me now and probably would be unrecognizable to anyone under the age of 50. After I took about 8 years off from computers between college and working in a library, I was unable even to start up a computer and make it run a program, much less do anything useful. Unless you use computers every day, you are constantly out of date. Even if you use them every day, you are out of date if you don’t upgrade every program at every opportunity. The new skills required don’t build on the old skills in the virtual world in same way they do in the analog world. Old tools have no utility. There is no mastery built of long experience, there is only the constant fear that the small world of utility you have created for yourself will collapse at any minute if your computer crashes and you will be starting all over again at ground zero in a new world that is several magnitudes more complex than it was last time your computer crashed, taking with it all of it’s comfortable software. This creates a sense of dread looming in the background at all times as you work with the certain knowledge that your skills are woefully out of date and when the inevitable crash comes, you will not be able to do at all what you can easily do now.
This is one of the reasons I prefer knitting, which, by the way, I often describe as the original binary code. Just knit and purl. That’s all there is. Everything is built upon a base of knit and purl, from the simplest cotton washrag to the most complicated Estonian lace shawl. So, I’m going to take a deep breath, shut down the computer, and go finish my latest knitting project, the instructions for which I admittedly downloaded from the Internet, and very easily from the lovely Ravelry.com site. Slip one knitwise and call me in the morning.