Competence can fuck off

I learn that Photoshop is thirty. The small revelation that goes with this information is that I’ve been using Photoshop for thirty years.

A screenshot from a very early version of Photoshop

That’s more than half of my life so far. I began using it in my twenties, at the other end of the 1990s, under Margaret Thatcher, under George H.W. Bush, before the first Gulf War, before the Internet had escaped from the Universities (before the web had escaped from that cave under Geneva).

The other revelation, the bigger one tbh, is that it’s possible for a person to spend three decades using a tool fairly regularly without ever acquiring more than the most elementary competence. I’m still a total amateur. I have no idea how to do any but the most basic tasks. Most of the tools and functions are mysterious to me. It’s a huge, deep, layered artefact — like one of those infinitely recursive mind-toys in Borges (or maybe one of Tim Morton’s hyperobjects).

But there follows another revelation. That maybe there’s nothing wrong with this. That using an important tool — a vital set of practices, a complex cultural gadget— without actually mastering it, is okay. Or at least okay for me. That the constant, low-grade anxiety produced by not being very good at things — or being okay at lots of things — might be wrong, self-destructive, stupid.

Even that, for me, this might be the right way to do things: a workable strategy, an appropriate response to the compexity of the tool-world, the contemporary mess of shit that I’m supposed to learn. Maybe I should just leave perfection, competence and mastery the deep-but-narrow types. It obviously makes some people happy to know what all the modes on this sodding thing do. Good for them. I’ll be over here, fiddling ineffectively.

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