Turning Back Pages

The back wall of the office in our house consists primarily of bookshelves. Because Karen is (and I find this a very attractive trait…sort of the hot librarian thing) a compulsive organizer, these books are carefully categorized according to the various disciplines that she and I have studied and practiced during our lives. As such, old textbooks of every stripe are located amongst those shelves. On occasion, I find myself pulling an old undergrad textbook from the shelf and glancing through it. On Saturday morning, with our daughter watching cartoons and Karen sleeping in, I was doing just that.

One of the books that I looked through was an old technical writing text. This was actually from my post-undergrad (is there such a thing?) period in which I went back for some professional courses after completing my degree. I mention that only to stipulate that this book isn’t even as old as several of the textbooks that we still own. In the back of this book was an appendix on the web. The focus was on writing content, but the discussion about HyperText Markup Language and the construction of the web was amusing to me. It’s fascinating to take a look back on this, partly because HTML is second nature to me now (a stretch from the confused glaze on my eyes the first time I encountered code), but also because of how completely out of date a text can become in such a short period of time.

When I worked in the behavioral health field, there were trends that came and went…popular techniques that were deemed to be effective at points but then phased out in favor of what was proven by time to be beneficial to the client. With some exception, common sense tended to prevail. In other words, the core concepts of what makes for good parenting skills today aren’t all that drastically different from, say, five years ago. When I think of other areas in which I’ve practiced…avocations more than vocations…the same is generally true. Good storytelling, good acting…these crafts have a very long history behind them telling us what makes for good practice.

The same certainly can’t be said for technology. That’s why it was so interesting to read information that would be considered ancient today in the back of a book on writing, the rest of which, generally speaking, would still be considered at least a mostly accurate referent for study on the topic. It’s a unique point in history…honestly, a bit of a disconcerting point…in which the rapid pace of our change so quickly makes obsolete knowledge that came so recently to us. I’m concerned about how this de-values education, how it rushes an already frantic pace of life, how it leaves us tumbling, holding on to fleeting bits of wisdom from the past being sucked by as though an explosive decompression had just occurred at 30,000 feet. There’s always a direct correlation between the speed at which a task moves and the (lack of) quality of the finished product. The last thing that we need in our post-modern age, where history repeats itself and we continuously find new reasons to harm each other, is to have more reason to not think things through and rush to action.

That’s exactly the sort of thing that those textbooks from decades ago can work to counteract.

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