We are forever reinventing ourselves.
Even at my age, I feel a bit little like a hairy caterpillar, belly stuffed with macerated spring leaves, boldly curling up into my cocoon in a quest to emerge as something else. I’ve had enough of this old, outdated mode, so let’s make it something quite different, okay? Something, say, less hairy and hmm, maybe with a pair of wings? Far-fetched, for sure, but you never know. Give me a few weeks and let’s see what develops.
“I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king.” Ol’ Blue Eyes sure knew what he was talking about.
In my case, I’ve been a typesetter, a graphic artist, a desktop publisher, a secretary, a technical writer, a data entry operator, a telephone operator, a trainer, a first-line supervisor, a middle manager and a legal researcher.
And as I’ve walked along my journey from the halls of high school to the employee break room to the unemployment line, I’ve occasionally turned my head just in time to catch the corridors contract and the doors silently shut behind me.
In his masterwork, Catch-22, novelist Joseph Heller asked “where are the snows of yesteryear?” And where are the ditto machines that spewed purple ink all over your hands and the paste-ups assembled at light tables with tri-squares, Exact-o knives and non-repro blue pens? Where are the shiny galleys pulled out of the dryer on RC paper, ready to marked up with funny, squiggly symbols by the proofreader? Where are the TTY users typing out their LED messages on a narrow one-line screen to a distant relay operator in half-English, half-American sign language? Where are the Vydec and the Wang, the IBM Electronic Selectric Composer, the CompuGraphic EditWriter, dBase II and Wordstar?
Constant change is the only thing guaranteed not to change. With rapid advances in technology comes the need to be flexible, to bend with the wind, to acquire new skill sets, to embrace new ways of doing and being, to metamorphose into something different and more beautiful.
The alternative is to be relegated to irrelevance and destitution. As the saying goes, “you’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.”
Or, as Douglas Coupland put it in his novel, Microserfs, “time to learn for real.”
Where once I could declaim knowledgeably about fonts and kerning, em-spaces and X-heights, and then about hearing carry over, speech-to-speech relay and VCO phones, and still later about preliminary hearings, felony arraignments and writs of habeas corpus, today I find myself in the strange new world of domain mapping, cascading style sheets and SQL queries. It’s a foreign language and some days I feel as if I am an enemy spy who has been dropped in by parachute in the dead of night.
I am a stranger in a strange land.
And in this land, the only currency that’ll buy you anything is zeroes and ones. And knowledge.
As one who was schooled in the liberal arts, I have been cast into the darkness with only the searching beam of a flashlight to find my way.
My most fervent prayer is that there is no truth to the adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
For I have many new tricks to learn. And with a little luck, one day soon I will emerge from this decades old chrysalis, shake off the dew in a flutter of wings and proudly fly away.