It's back-to-school week across much of the east coast of the United States, but for the first time in 21 years, I'm not getting someone ready for a first day at one or more of the local public schools.
There's a routine to these things, a well-worn path to places like Target and Staples and Sears and maybe The Gap, depending on the year's fashion. Across two decades, endless lists and 39 different first days, the pattern gets kind of baked into your subconcious. So it was a bit of a surprise to realize this week that it was over.
I was driving past Columbia High School, on my way to the recycling center, when it dawned on me that I didn't even know when classes started. That's a long way removed from my school-board days, when I had to study the school calendar before voting to approve it.
That got me thinking that it is hard for most of us to see patterns. We can remember moments – camera in hand, my mother chasing a grandson just starting sixth grade down the street in front of South Orange Middle School, the boy desperately hoping to avoid being seen with relatives – but we miss the tapestry that connects these moments. It becomes background for us.
That's true until after it's gone. Practically speaking, my days of getting someone ready ended a year ago, when the youngest started his senior year. But we don't see the end at the end; we see it in hindsight.
Lately, I've been thinking about publishing this way. I've wondered out loud if it might be too late to start working on digital readiness. After all, 17 years have passed since Nicholas Negroponte published Being Digital, in which he posited the "post-information age".
As much time has passed since Kevin Kelly wrote Out of Control, in which he imagines Borges' Library, a collection of books with endless combinations of letters and numbers that seemed like gibberish. Gibberish, that is, until one turned out to be "The Tempest", another "The Sound and the Fury".
I don't have a crystal ball, and I am not sure 17 years is enough time to develop hindsight on an industry whose roots trace back to Gutenberg. That said, it does seem like the dawn of the public internet signalled something much larger, and we've lagged ever since.
I'm not dire; things change, and we can learn new patterns. Later today, I'll be driving to Providence (the one in Rhode Island), to start the last one on a college career. The shopping lists are shorter, more expensive and they now start with a trip to Jerry's Artist Outlet in West Orange.
Some aspects of the old routine persist, but the boy who gave me a vivid example of why piracy is the consequence of a bad API will no longer come home for lunch every day. It's finally clear that we're starting a new arc.