The enduring nature of our creations is on my mind today. Here in New York City, there are innumerable monuments that silently testify to humanity’s ability to build things that last. There is the unyielding copper sculpture that is the Statue of Liberty. There are the city’s old, iconic, steel and stone bridges that carry millions daily without sway. There is the crown jewel of Manhattan, the majestic Empire State Building, standing tall despite suffering a direct hit from a B25 bomber in 1945. All are of such permanence and wondrous majesty, and all reflect the creativeness and indomitable nature of the human spirit. Inspired, I considered both my mortality and the list of my lasting contributions only to feel the ephemeral nature of my profession hit me like a runaway truck.
To be clear, I was a business software developer at the time, and I was well aware of the generally transient nature of things related to commerce: here today, gone in about five years or less. That’s fine; I could deal with that. What I found harder to accept was the knowledge that my efforts did not and likely would not result in any lasting contribution to this world. No structures built. No lives touched for the better. Nothing.
Years ago, I created systems written in COBOL. For those who don’t know, COBOL is not the ancient planet from Battlestar Galactica, but an old computer language that dates back to 1959, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States. I was born a few years later, so when the time came for me to use COBOL for a major commercial bank, Reagan was President, disco’s corpse was still twitching, and there was no such thing as the internet. However, I had the luxury of entering computer instructions on green monochrome screens (the kind with a massive tube for a display) instead of the punched cards I used while in college. Yes, I said “punched cards.” I pause now to give millennials a chance to stop laughing.
The ever-changing needs of business demanded that the technology of the time give way to newer, faster, and more capable languages and systems. Again, that’s fine given so much time passed. I could accept that all the work I did became just so much garbage in the infamous Fresh Kills Landfill. It was the nature of the beast, so I moved on.
I later found myself writing programs for many years in a language called RPG (Report Program Generator), itself another green-screen remnant of 1959. Yes, I toiled away once more using technology that became immediately obsolete the moment graphical interfaces and English-like languages emerged. I later worked for various companies located throughout the Northeast and watched as they eventually scrapped their existing systems as time progressed. Meanwhile, the first signs of trouble with my health began to appear. “Heart failure,” the doctors said. It just made the temporary nature of my work all the worse. Even as my heart missed beats and fluttered in my chest like a mad butterfly, I watched all of my work meet its end as though neither it nor I ever existed.
Eventually, I had a chance to create something of a lasting nature a few years later as there was a need to create a specific kind of interactive system that green monochrome screens and technologies from 1959 could not handle. I was the only person who knew of a language that could save the day, thus I presented the use of something that was relatively modern to a company that remained committed to archaic technology. It took much convincing, a wireframe presentation, alpha testing (bare-bones logic), beta testing (close to production logic), and pretty much the final product to convince the powers-that-be that my solution was sound. Finally! The use of a more modern language would ensure that my work would be around to benefit others for many years!
They removed my work along with the rest of the system a short while later, and I felt a deep sense of loss that was magnified by my ongoing health concerns. I felt a clock ticking in my chest, and I didn’t want time to run out.
Now, what could I create for people to use or enjoy for a reasonable length of time? That’s when I belatedly realized I was already contributing something. I was offering my thoughts online as ways of providing discussion points, historical viewpoints, and even memories of people and things that are forgotten or even unknown to most. Then and now, the blogs and videos I offer on major platforms aren’t the stuff of physical spectacle; however, I believe they are the best things I can offer to the future.
I know I’m not alone in doing this or in having a similar belief. Others blog, vlog, volunteer, teach, coach, counsel, or do other things in the hope that their knowledge, experience, or outlook will at least reach one mind or stir one heart. The goal is to work today with the goal of reaching out to a distant future not with metal or masonry, but with our minds, our passions, and our hopes for a better tomorrow.
Perhaps one day my grandchildren will see my work and ask about me, or maybe they will bring the issues I addressed to their teachers for further discussion. Who knows? Whatever comes, I just hope I’ll be able to pass on whatever I can to those who follow directly or send them my best through creations of the past such as this.
Take care, my friends.