Sunday, June 12, 2016

It's Not Future Shock

It's a sort of personalized obsolescence. Which bleeds into a creeping realization of mortality, and comes with the baggage of a nearly overwhelming sense of futility.

That's the trouble with growing up. The more you learn, the more you realize just how much more there is to learn. And when things change -- technologies change, jobs change, lives change -- big chunks of that parcel of skill and knowledge so laboriously achieved fall away into useless garbage.

I should be having a good day. I finished my circuit and sent the files off the fab house (OSHPark). I listened to some very nice music including some pieces that brought tears to my eyes -- and stuffed them into a playlist to savor again.

But while scrounging around for a blank CD (which itself was a bit of future shock; I haven't burned an audio CD in so long I didn't even know if there was software on my laptop to do it. I could only assume that since it still has -- unlike many laptops these days -- an optical drive, it could burn as well as read. Which was a rarity as recently for me as two computers ago.)

Anyhow, while looking for the blank I had to push aside some boxes of software. Software I have no use for now, little remaining memory of how to use them, and in some cases I don't even remember those long, long hours trying to master that particular item.

Software skills go obsolete with frightening speed. Other skills are less hit by technological obsolesce. Yet. Life seems to move at so much a brisker pace, a lot of the craft skills I learned and used to apply are just too time consuming to consider now. Among the things I once had time for -- or at least can remember once dabbling in -- and can't see sparing the moment for today.

And long is the list of things I once knew or could do but am hopelessly rusty at now. In this new stripped-down streamlined life, I find myself relying on a sort of muscle-memory of what was once a base of knowledge. I learned a bit about how to write, for instance. Studied character development and plotting and pacing and use of mirrors and archetypes and all that lot. And I can't consciously remember any of that now. I just...write. And hope that all that time spent in learning left a residue back there that is unconsciously shaping my choices.

Having to rely on muscle memory, on the Cliff Notes version, of how it felt to have a skill (as opposed to actually having the current and practiced skill) leaves you open to stupid mistakes. And makes it easier to throw away even the memory of those old lessons in order to pick up a new rule-of-thumb that may not be right but is close enough for the job that is due today.

I'm reading a lot of history now. I feel like I'm starting to learn something. But slowly I'm starting to remember hitting the history books before. Read nearly two dozen books on the Pacific War, for instance. I'm sure I read Churchill's "The River War," and several others besides. For that matter -- there was a short time that I was fascinated by the stories of pioneer female aviators, reading books by Jackie Cochrane, "Pancho" Barnes, Beryl Markham and others.

So perhaps it is yet another illusion of knowledge, a sense of having your finger on all the essential names and dates, the Sneferu's and the Sennacherib's (and I had to look up the spelling of the latter!) that lasts only long enough for you to turn in the final exam or pass the orals. Perhaps all we ever do is coast on, on an illusion of knowledge; either one borne of knowing too little in the first place, or one borne of putting in the effort but managing to forget not just most of what we learned but most importantly the sense of just how little we'd actually managed to learn in the first place.

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