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Goodbye Bento, hello TapForms

"Obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it's just the beginning."

Marshall McLuhan

This was going to be a slightly gloomy post about saying goodbye to my recipe database which is stored in an application called Bento. But in the process I have found that there is actually a future - for now - for all my hard work.

Way back I decided to go through all my back copies for delicious magazine and mark the recipes in them that were worth keeping. Then I would create a database that I could search in the very easy to use Bento application. The first stage was marking the recipes with little post it notes, then get the database and work out how to use it - pretty simple - and then copy the recipes into it. This, of course was somewhat time-consuming so I decided to take the 'eating an elephant' approach and did one recipe a day. Eventually I finished - because whilst I was ploughing my way through them all I decided to stop subscribing to delicious, which I thought was becoming a bit repetitive.

Of course, I should then have thrown out all the magazines, but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it and they are now stored very high up in my kitchen on a couple of shelves, together with some old Time/Life series of cookbooks. I used to collect them too. I tell myself that they are a design feature - well they are almost completely inaccessible above and back from the pantry - certainly by me - and if left empty they look awful. Not that they look much better stacked with magazines. They're not really very beautiful. The shelves were leftovers from the old laundry. I now see that it would have been better to take down the shelves and use the space for a picture of some kind - most suitably a foodie kind of photograph. But then I'm also very bad about getting photographs printed. Another resolution that has so far failed to come to fruition.

Anyway, in the manner of technology Bento is now defunct. It was actually discarded by its makers Filemaker several years ago, but it still worked. There were just no upgrades. Apple however, continues to upgrade and their latest systems software will prevent Bento working at all. That and a couple of other pieces of software I have. So I have been putting off moving to the latest systems software whilst I migrated some of my other stuff to new places. That is now more or less finished, so time to say goodbye to Bento.

Which made me think about how the speed of progress, has meant that we constantly have to reassess what is important and what is not and how we can preserve what is important. Before computers everything was on paper. Yesterday as I walked back from the shops I passed a rubbish bin full of those old suspension files that you used to have in filing cabinets. Remember them? We actually still have some, although a lot of what is in there should go. That rubbish bin told me that someone was taking advantage of lockdown to do a big clear out. And shouldn't we all?

Some of my Italian class colleagues are also taking advantage of the lockdown to go through all their hundreds, maybe thousands of digital photographs. The ironic thing is that lots of people have now decided that photographs need to be returned to paper storage in the form of photo books. Easy, but then again not. First you have to choose the photos - very, very difficult, and then you have to choose the best software to use to print the books.

So is paper the future for storage of really important stuff? Paper that will survive the centuries that is, because some paper does of course disintegrate. When I worked in libraries I worked with databases and with stuff that was on shelves. The stuff that was on the shelves had to be listed and classified so that people would be able to find what they wanted - that's what databases are for, although before databases there were card catalogues. Libraries, being the forward thinking places that they are, decided to start transferring all that fragile paper on the shelves into more durable form - first microfilm, then microfiche, then began the digital era - paper tape and punched cards, floppy discs, CDs, DVDs, USB sticks then transfer all of that onto digital databases, which also evolved and changed and demanded regular conversion, not to mention considerable amounts of money. It's an ongoing race against the next technical innovation. It has created new industries, new jobs, new career paths and new businesses. Fortunes have been made and fortunes lost.

Part of it we lay at the feet of the big companies and policies of built-in obsolescence - and sure there is some deliberate built-in obsolescence, but mostly it's just that human desire to keep moving forward to invent something new, to find new ways of doing things - even if the aim is just to get more customers. It can be very annoying - I have been annoyed with Apple several times now for dumping iPhoto, iWeb and its journalling software, and now for upgrading its software so that lots of what I have will not be able to be able to be used in the future - like all the cookbooks I made with Adobe InDesign and didn't convert to pdfs. That's retrievable fortunately - if I pay Adobe money.

But I'm trying to look on the bright side of this. On a personal level, all of these changes are good for us. Well that's how I am trying to see it - a silver lining search.

It's good for the brain in that it first of all has to look for ways around the problem, and then very likely it has to learn a new way of doing things.

It's good in that it makes us think about what is really necessary in our lives. This morning when I began on the discarding Bento thing, I had convinced myself that I could live with this. Yes I had spent hours and hours transcribing those recipes but really, how often have I used that database? If I have and I have found a recipe I wanted to use I have printed it out on to paper and then either thrown it away because it was useless or filed it in one of those display folders. Leaving me (or my poor children) something else to decide whether to throw out or not. Now, however, I have been granted a reprieve - new software to store all those recipes. I have a ten day free trial - now shall I then pay out the $60.00 required to continue - or just say goodbye to that part of my life? I still don't know.

Such are the trivial technological problems we grapple with on an almost daily basis. At least we are now fully NBN enabled - and all is well.

"Obsolescence is a fate devoutly to be wished, lest science stagnate and die." Stephen Jay Gould


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