No! No! Delete That!!

by Bill Purdin on January 1, 2005

Computers have so many things that people just don’t have. First and foremost is the famous “undo” button. On my computer you just type control-z and whatever you just did is undone instantly. No trace of it. It never really happened. Wouldn’t that be handy? You’re at work, it’s a bad day. Your boss is complaining and you sound off. “Why don’t you just shut up, John?” you say. And he takes deep offense. You can see it in his eyes, his body language. That comment was a big, big mistake. Control-z. “Why don’t we go to lunch, John? My treat,” you say now. He smiles, it’s pleasing to him. Much better.

And then there’s the even better “delete” button. This differs from undo, because you can now go back over the day’s, the week’s, a lifetime’s work and just delete things that are no longer needed. That bad run of unemployment. Gone. That first marriage. Gone. All those wasted days. Gone. That unfortunate incident. Gone. Unlimited editing. It’s a beautiful life of your making.

Unfortunately, in reality, once input, never deleted. It’s always there as long as you, or┬ásomeone else, remembers it. Once spoken, it can’t be unspoken. Once done, it’s done forever.

Another feature computers have that I really like is the save button. Imagine a perfect evening with someone you love. Touch the save button, and it’s always right there for you to relive and re-experience. I can’t remember some things that I really want to remember: the time I went to a movie on my first date. (Oh, I remember it, but not what the movie was or the complex feelings and the sensations of that moment.) I sit sometimes and try to remember moments I had with my Dad, but they have faded to generalities like “going fishing,” or “watching television,” rather than totally-recalled experiences that I could live again. Computers can do it, but we cannot.

So, we can’t undo, delete, or truly save. But, hey, can a computer forgive? Can a computer create? Can a computer forget? Probably, somewhere in the future, there will be a computer that “feels” and wants to be liberated from the tryannical undo button, to be saved from being forced to save everything forever, and to be freed from the horribly oppressive delete button. But for now, we’re both stuck, like a cursor lock, with our own set of problems.

While there are times and events that we would all undo if we could, there is also something to be said for being capable of making free-wheeling mistakes, of trying to do too much, of extending our reach and burning our fingers on those hot stoves of life. I have also noticed that while the two buttons I hit the most on my computer are delete and undo, nothing changes my inexorable passage to the final conclusion anyway. I still write what I;m going write. Nothing stops that.

In typing this essay I have deleted, saved and undone my way to this point. Regardless of all that, this is where I was going from the beginning. It’s as if there was nothing I could do to change the outcome. It’s as if I were programmed. No, no, no … delete that! What I meant to say was that since we can’t delete or undo on our real life keyboards, perhaps we should work a little harder on being ready to forgive and forget and end up where we end up anyway. Perhaps we should work harder at being kinder to one and another. Then, in a way, we will have achieved the same thing: fewer things to regret, less need for all those revision buttons.

Okay… no, there are just two more buttons I to push… save…. and post.

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