Question 164 of 365: What is the power of undo?

Question 164 of 365: What is the power of undo?

I think that the single greatest innovation in the history of creative
work was the undo button. The ability to go back to what was before
and not have to look at the mess you have made of what you started is
just beautiful. Just as some people believe code is poetry, I believe
that undo is prose. The sheer amount of things that you can undo is
incredible. Entire ideas and images can be undone. Meetings can be
unscheduled and networks can be unlinked. At least, in theory.

The last few years have seen the diminished use of the undo button.
Deleting things off of the web is all but impossible. Social networks
keep all connections and are difficult to undo. Even email has turned
into an archiving machine instead of way to move beyond what has
already been done. Everything is in the cloud, syncing desktops with
phones with laptops with tablets. Undo is an approximation now. We
backup and we restore. We don’t undo anymore.

I remember writing one of my first papers on the computer and I
accidentally hit the insert button. I didn’t know that such a button
existed, but when I tried to go back and edit a misspelled word, I
started writing over what was already there. For an hour my mother and
I tried to type the same sentence over and over again and all the
while, we were losing more and more of the essay. Not only did we not
know about the insert key, we didn’t know that all we had to do was
click that simple undo button and magically things were back to
normal. It took my father coming home and showing me the magical
button for the full effect to take hold.

Now, I wonder if that realization will even matter. Because everything
saves automatically every few seconds, what does it matter if things
get messed up? We publish and then question. We tweet and then think.
The undo isn’t as virtuous as it once was. It is an afterthought, a
feature without a future.

Well, I for one want the undo button to make a comeback. I would like
to see beside each “share this” button, a huge undo button that would
allow the viewer to get back to whatever we were supposed to be doing
before we went down the rabbit hole that is the web. It isn’t a back
button. It is an undo for distraction, an undo for being public all of
the time, and an undo from being hopelessly tied to the network for
all information and understanding.

The undo button, if it is to survive, will allow us to be an
individual again. Because every undo is a singular act. It isn’t
collaborative to get rid of what is already there, but it is freeing
to be able to do it anyway. Undo is what we wish we could do in real
life with nearly every act, but if we can no longer do it online, we
will have lost something truly special about the digital world.

Undo is the way in which we can live without regret online. It is the
way that we can actually forget what we have done, and sometimes that
is really important. At least it is to me.

Posted via email from The Throughput

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