A Geekful Thanksgiving

joe —  Wed 27-Nov-13

AtonementIt’s that time of year when Facebook lights up with all of the things our friends are thankful for. Thanksgiving is wonderfully special in that it requires no religious affiliation and doesn’t exclude anyone based on what they believe. Regardless of how little one has, anyone can be thankful. The fact that you are reading this means you have a heartbeat, basic respiratory functions and an means for surfing the web.

But this year I am thankful for something most people take for granted – the undo key. Yep, good old Cmd-Z, or Ctrl-Z for you Windows users.

Of all of the inventions known to man, I contend that the undo key may be one of the greatest of all times. For many of us, some form of computer is at the center of our digital existence. Imagine trying to use that digital tool of creation knowing that whatever you do cannot be undone without starting completely over.

Autocorrect closetNot sure if your latest Photoshop creation requires Prussian Blue or Sherpa Blue? Better be sure before you use that paint bucket tool. Want to restore your 10,000 word essay from an auto-saved version the Word created when the power went out? You sure?? You didn’t just accidentally hit delete on that file, did you?

Undo allows us to move through life with confidence. We know that we are only one keystroke away from making correcting our mistakes. This blog would never exist if it weren’t for Undo. I used Cmd-Z 7 times in the first three paragraphs alone. Undo makes us more intrepid and allows us to take on tasks where frustration would otherwise forbid us to go if it were not for this magical key.

I had been thinking about Undo for some time when this geek worship crossed into reality. The three women in my life (wife, daughter, and mother-in-law) and I were at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert last night. TSO has a wonderfully narrated story about Christmas and redemption. It was one sentence that came from the resonating bass voice of the narrator that stuck with me.

Is there any evil so hideous that it would wipe out all of the good we have done in our lives or any deed so great that could subsume all of our evils?

To paraphrase, is there a human equivalent of the undo key?

Imagine going through life knowing that whenever you said something wrong, you could say something that would take it all back. It’s as if people would actually believe you when you say, “Just kidding.” It would allow you to finally answer, “Do these jeans make my butt look fat?” You could go out drinking all night, creating havoc everywhere you went knowing that you were just one undo from making it all better the next morning.

No regertsBut that’s not what undo is. On the computer, undo is a way to correct something before you present it to others. You don’t get to stand up in front of the Board of Directors with the name of your company misspelled on the first Powerpoint slide, wave a little silver neuralizer and say, “Undo!” The undo was only available as you were creating the presentation and was taken away the moment it was show time.

So too is the human undo. You cannot simply take away what has been said or done to others. It is in those moments before your words or actions take flight that the undo key is available. Once committed, you can try to atone or seek redemption. You can hope that time is your friend. But undo is gone.

What we do in life is committed and means something. I am greatly thankful for that. It means what I do matters. I have the potential to bring joy or evil. Because I have that choice, I matter. If I do something wrong, I want to feel the tension to correct it. I want to learn from my failures so that whenever joy comes, I never take it for granted. I want to be fully accountable for all that I do and all that I am.

This Thanksgiving I give thanks for one of the greatest computer inventions of all time. I rest comfortably tonight fully aware that I don’t have the undo key in my personal life.

Now if only I could undo the copious amounts of cranberry cloud I will be eating tomorrow night. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!