Therapy and Obsolescence

A friend of mine worked in the printing business for over 20 years as an "etcher". In this case, etching refers to using chemicals on sheets of film to control color shifts on a printing press. As the "desktop publishing" revolution took hold, computers made it possible to make those same changes consistently, more efficiently, and without having to worry about the effects of those chemicals. Control of color was no longer a matter of chemistry in skilled and experienced hands, it was a matter of moving a slider on a computer screen. In the span of about four years, Robert's core skill was completely obsolete. Gone. Respectable, but quite useless in the new world of printing. Fortunately, he's smart and one of the nicest guys in the world. He joined the company I was working for and adopted the digital age. Unfortunately, digital technology within itself has obsolescence, and its cycles can be shorter than four years. Much shorter.

It was in the opening pages of Natalie MacLean's book "Red, white, and drunk all over" that I identified a kindred spirit. We've both served time in the software world and even shared the same obscure "web evangelist" title, a Silicon Valley-specific role. We've both seen first-hand how quickly obsolescence can come about when you combine software and the web, each acting as an accelerant to the other.

I'm curious if she has experienced the same phenomenon I have. Rather than becoming obsolete in a matter of months, the knowledge each of us acquires about our respective passions will be useful for the rest of our lives.

Without completely realizing it, cooking had become therapy for me. During the day, I had phone calls and meetings, racked up 3000 key strokes, pieced together demonstrations of not-yet-finished software, and when I got home, I had nothing to show. I couldn't hold what I had made, I couldn't place it on the mantle or take it to dinner to show a friend. Instead, it was locked away in cyberspace (a name given to a non-existent location to make those of us who contribute into a black void of intangibility feel better. It's a variation on what your parents told you when your dog died to make you feel better, your version being that he/she went off to live on a farm.) At the end of the day, I have nothing to show for what I did, and large pieces of what I know will be obsolete - or at least have updated versions - this time next year.

I've learned something from everything I've ever cooked and, good or bad, the results were at least tangible. The real "product" at the end of a meal is people being together, drinking wine, and sharing life's experiences and adventures with others. Done right, all that preparation can make someone smile, and while only slightly more tangible than software, it is the best ending to a hard day's work I can think of.


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