There is something tragic in reading about early 20th century butlers, especially the ones so devoted to their work that they put a lot of time and effort into the question of what it took to be a good butler. It’s not just that the profession, with a few edge cases, is all but gone – it’s that we see through the modern eye how so much of the work is contrived. The waiting of tables, the polishing of silvers, the staff schedules… it’s rare to find any description of the job that makes sense for a post millennial context.
What keeps me pressing forward, besides the literary craftsmanship of Kazuo Ishiguro in his book The Remains of the Day, is the thought of how this might relate to my work as a software engineer. Will the web exist a century from now or will all the time and effort put into it be analogous to the butler’s chores around the great houses they maintained for the aristocracy? The answer to me is obvious: everything is subject to change and it’s hard to find it more rampant than in the world of technology.
If the work I do now is as contrived, or, to be more charitable, “of the moment we are in history,” then I would be just as pitiful as the butler if I based too much of my identity in work. Although this is intuitive in a moment of reflection, the web is chock full of “Getting Better” and “Improve Your Game” type fares to which people with my Napoleonic temperament are particularly susceptible.
I keep having to learn a lesson about how the transcendent parts of life are found in relationships; how my moments with my wife or my son are what will persist as “meaningful” if for some reason someone unearths my life, or lives like the one I lived, a century from now. It’s the sad lesson of the butler within the exquisite writing of Kazuo Ishiguro; sad enough that for many people it sits with them long after the conclusion of the book (or movie even though it’s not as good). My sight is set on that even if, on a late night or an early morning, I’m at my computer working hard to try to be better at what I do.