An Ode to Undo

It’s not what you can do with computers, it’s what you can undo

Simon Pitt
Debugger
Published in
7 min readOct 30, 2021

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Photo by Sam Pak on Unsplash

Of all the things you can make with computers, it is perhaps the things you can un-make that I like best.

Delete. Backspace. Close without saving. Edit — Undo. These functions allow you to wipe the slate clean. To backtrack and remove mistakes as if they never happened. Almost all mediums let you make things from nothing, but only with computers can you unmake things so totally that it is as if they never happened.

In many ways, humanity has been creating tools of un-creation for decades. There is the rubber on the end of the pencil and white-out for painting over ink. There are Tipp-Ex mice that regurgitate strips of paper from their nose across errors and there are small knives for scratching the ink from thick paper. At school, I had a double-ended ink eraser that chemically dissolved ink from one end and a tip that was impervious to the chemical on the other. But none of these options perfectly removes the error. None returns the page to how it originally was. The rubber leaves pencil indentations or damages the paper. The white-out creates a crusty, painty layer. The double-ended ink eraser leaves a weird stain and only gives you one shot. “What’s done,” as Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth notes, “cannot be undone.”

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Simon Pitt
Debugger

Media techie, software person, and web-stuff doer. Head of Corporate Digital at BBC, but views my own. More at pittster.co.uk