Playing catch up: or, do we really need all these software updates?

All of a sudden your software is out of date and you’re out of the loop. But who needs all those whistles and bells anyway?

Okay, okay, I’ll install updates. Stop notifying me. I know, okay?

And with that I stop doing what I’m doing and let my computer do whatever it is that it needs to do. This should be a nice moment of pause, an opportunity to do some mindless/mindful colouring-in or something.

But no. Here I am on the edge of my seat, glaring at the great silver machine, filled with a special kind of dread, a fear of the imminent unknown. Because yes, I am old and I am scared.

Okay, so I’m not old old. I can’t yet claim to be particularly wise or sophisticated or learned – there’s still a tinge of petulant youth behind these greying temples.

But the years are definitely catching up with me, all the signs are there. I have to say “oof” when I sit down; I spend inordinate amounts of time complaining about how much better things used to be (seriously, what have you kids done to Smarties packaging?); and I’m getting set in
my ways. Which would be fine, except my ways are increasingly creaky
and wrong.

At the other end of that progress bar there are new ways, ways I’m reluctantly inviting into my already overcrowded understanding of the universe.

I used to know how things worked. I used to have the time and the wits about me to pick up the latest bit of software and learn how to use it, just like that. When I was a bright-eyed and bushy intern, back in the twentieth-century, I was handed a digital camera (with a floppy drive!) and a copy of Photoshop – “You’ll figure it out.”

And I did. Not a problem. In the years since then, I’ve figured out many, many tools of the trade. But it adds up. My head is a squidgy accumulation of software updates and exciting new features. There’s only so much room. I’m worried
that one day, I’ll learn a new layer effect trick and it’ll push out something important like how the coffee machine works or what my wife
looks like.

Aside from mental capacity issues, the problem is that I’ve grown complacent and busy. I don’t get to play with new things like I used to. And I’m falling behind. What was a state of perpetual and enjoyable learning has turned into perpetual and anxious catching-up.

Will I understand any of these new bells and whistles? And what if they’ve completely done away with the bells and the whistles? What then? I’m only a software update or two away from being irreversibly baffled. Whatever it is that’s installing right now could tip me over the edge into complete uselessness. All the other monkeys are throwing bones into the sky and exploring space, and I’m sat in the mud, poking myself in the face with a stick.

What am I to do? Well, the obvious thing would be to find some time to really familiarise myself with all these new toys, spend a few days on a course perhaps. Except … there are no days. There are never any days. I don’t have time to find time.

No, I shall choose the path of blitheness. I shall stumble along regardless, not worry too much about the new tools currently spewing into my computer. I’ll trip over them and figure them out in my own sweet time.

Besides, how new are they really? No matter how fat those menus and toolboxes get, there’s a whole lot of decrepitude inherent in even the most up-to-date design software. It’s all built on decades-old foundations that are themselves digital facsimiles of even older physical practises. The actions I learnt with my first edition of Photoshop, way back when, are still in there somewhere. I’m not the only one getting old.

I’ve seen enough progress and obsolescence to understand that the real trick to keeping up with technology is to look beyond the new and pay attention to the next. What are the interfaces of tomorrow?

One springs to mind. There’s a whole generation growing up, learning how to create in a completely new language. As soon as this update has done updating, I have an appointment with the way of the future. I’m going to get my hands on Minecraft, have a play and see if I can get it to do things it wasn’t designed to do. Just like I used to do when I was young. 1

Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a designer based in York. He remembers when it was all fields around here. See and follow him via @gray

Image: James Dawe,

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