Upgradeitis

“If it ain’t broke, don’t upgrade it”. This is an interesting article from Macworld. Artist Bob Staake has been using Photoshop 3 since 1994.

The idea of using such outdated software is foreign to many technophiles who, in this era of instant gratification when songs, movies, and software updates are never more than a click away, rarely seem to use programs that are older than a couple of months. So when Staake posted a video of his process for creating the cover of The New Yorker’s recent politics issue, the news that he was using software over a decade old spread faster than celebrity gossip.

Of course, Staake has upgraded some of his equipment over the years, despite his use of Photoshop 3.0 and older versions of Adobe PageMill and FileMaker Pro. “Believe me, I am anything but a technophobe,” he said. “I rarely ever upgrade because I’m usually inundated with work and simply don’t have the time to learn new versions. For me, it is simply a matter of pragmatism.” The 7100 has now been replaced as his workhorse by a PowerMac G5 running Mac OS X 10.4.11, necessitating that he run his beloved Photoshop 3.0 in Mac OS 9.2.1 via the Classic emulation environment (and not, as several blog posts about his New Yorker cover erroneously stated, in System 7).

This is not something that you hear a great deal about in our consumer culture, where new is always better and if you want to remain competitive, beautiful, accepted you’ve got to get with the latest and greatest. This is the great lie of the consumer culture – the constant need to upgrade. Mr.Staake did not fall for the fallacy of needing the constant upgrade to keep producing successfully.

Learning new versions of photoshop might make his work easier or faster. But for this artist, it did not really matter. He tried newer versions and simply found them lacking. He knows his tools inside and out and they do what he wants from them. Knowing the quirks of your tools and the things you need to do to work around them is the productive side of not upgrading. Any perceived adavantage of a novel system is negated by the fiddle time – that is the time it takes to get productive again. I have lost years to fiddle time.

There is nothing wrong with the upgrade or learning something new. But, I think it becomes counter productive when you assume that an upgrade is needed to keep producing or to keep competitive. To fully evaluate an upgrade or product, you need to divorce it from the glamour of “newness”. I am always thinking that the newest version will have that much “needed” feature or just be that much whiz bang better. But, what does the new software or hardware deliver that can not be done now ? Is this ability worth the time and monetary cost ? I find that if I do ask this question I am much less likely to decide to upgrade (unless it is free-then what the heck).

I like learning new systems and I like playing with new toys. I think one can get more creative learning novel systems. But, if the goal is to create and one just keeps learning new tools, is that any different than procrastinating by any other method ? Mr. Staake solved the problem by sticking with his original goal – just making his art.

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