Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Take Two"

When computers first began to appear, I was seriously taken by the “Undo” button. With this key function, you could, say, delete something, and by hitting the “Undo” button, the material would magically reappear, often with a look of smirking vindication saying,

“We knew you’d miss us.”

You couldn’t do that before. How many times had I lost some filed-away notes or some perfectly executed scene, and tried to duplicate the missing material, only to produce, at best, a broken teacup, glued back together, but nowhere close to the original. The “Undo” button offered freedom from such frustration. You got the original back, exactly as it was.

(And then, on occasion at least, you read it over, and you realized that it wasn’t, in fact, that great. Still, at least the “Undo” button’s returning it from oblivion gave you the opportunity to see that for yourself. And face some serious questions about your purported, but now proven not always reliable, impeccable judgment.)

I thought the “Undo” concept was wonderful. A legitimate second chance. If only you could do that with life.

How great it would be to be able to “Undo” some embarrassing behavior or slips of the tongue. Or get a “do-over” at a substandard performance, where you missed the “sweet spot” of the moment, grounding harmlessly to the pitcher.

First impressions that we’re told mean so much? You could have any number of them, continually “Undoing” till you get it just right. The pressure would be off. No more, “It’s now or never!” Maybe just knowing that would relieve the tension, the lowered heat letting you more easily “nail it” on the first try.

Or would it? (This is my mandatory “opposite argument” paragraph.) Maybe it’s the pressure born from the awareness that you only have one shot at it that triggers the adrenalin that maximizes your performance, with the additional benefit of an upgrade in confidence, resulting from the awareness that you came through in the clutch. With the “Undo” button, there is no “clutch.” Because there’s always another chance. (Thank you for your time. I will now return to the original argument, having paid my dues to intellectual scrupulosity.)

What it comes down to is percentages – how many times you wish you could have taken something back versus how many times you rose to the occasion. I don’t know about you, but, for me, it’s not even close. I fought a baboon in Africa, and that’s about it. The preponderance of my past experience leans heavily towards, “Man, if I only I could do that again.”

That’s why I thought – as I said when computers first came out – that the “Undo” button was such a powerful metaphor, something, as a result – metaphors being literary devices – I might employ specifically in my writing.

As it happened, I was at that time writing episodes for the first season of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories (1985). Having delivered two episodes that had been highly praised, I received a phone call, inviting me to a gathering, where a flatteringly few number of writers would join Mr. Spielberg in a two-day “pitch session”, during which we would come up with all the story ideas for the following season.

I was very excited to be included. I mean, this was Steven Spielberg, and his almost equally “Midas Touch” stable of writers. It would be an honor to work with them. It was a thrill just to set foot in Spielberg’s compound on the Universal lot. It was designed to look like the Alamo. If the Alamo had Jaws money.

My mind immediately went to work. Not surprisingly, the first idea that popped up was The ‘Undo’ Button. A congenital bumbler discovers that his new “Word Processor” includes a button that not only “Undoes” the mistakes in his text, but also provides him with “second chance” opportunities with his boss, his domineering mother and, most significantly, a young lady for whom he desperately pines, though, sadly, their “one-on-one’s” have been less than memorable, unless by “memorable”, you mean disastrous. Now he can perfect his performances.

With this, and one other idea sketched out, I was ready for my meeting. In the meantime, however, I had contacted my agent, inquiring as to the appropriateness of participating in an arrangement, where produceable ideas are being generated, but in which nobody is being paid. I’m not talking “break the bank” amounts here. An acknowledging “Consulting Fee.” Something.

My agent agreed that the situation was unusual, but left the decision to me. Before deciding, I asked my agent to “float the idea” concerning the possibility of compensation.

The result of my agent’s contacting Spielberg’s company about my proposal was that my request for payment was rejected, and my invitation to the gathering was revoked. I was also not invited to write any of the second season’s episodes.

Leaving me thinking, then, and as I revisit the situation today, how differently things might have gone if there actually were an “Undo” button in life.


Gnasche said...

This ties in very nicely with computer games. One feature among games where you progress is the "Save Game" option. So, when you know something bad is coming up - you save the game before jumping into the conflict.

Many times you'll find yourself loading that game again, a little more knowledgeable and a little more confident - ready to tackle the conflict once again.

Sometimes this works. When it's particularly difficult, though, you may even do worse. So how does the "undo" option in this scenario do? Not well - until the next day.

The next day you load up the same saved game and once again fight your battle. And then, as Archimedes would say, "EUREKA!" - it's so simple. Why was I having such a hard time before?

So, while undo buttons in life would be wonderful, I don't think it would be useful for the truly difficult encounters. Not unless your brain had time to go off on its own and work out the best solution - without you interrupting it repeatedly with your inefficient conscious thoughts. You know the ones I'm talking about.

Shawn Green said...

We're about the same age and I just cannot recall ever seeing an "Undo" button on a computer keyboard. I did not start computing until the late 80s, and my memory stopped functioning very well about 10 years ago. Which is why instead of an "Undo" button, I've opted for the "Easy" button.

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; the meta nature of your encounter and pitch idea are great. Maybe your undo button would be to take this idea and finally pitch it to Mr. Spielberg. Not as a TV episode but as a short or something else of less weight than a movie.


Frank said...

I guess poor Steven must have been a bit tight of cash eh.