Surfing on a Wave of Nostalgia for an Age Yet to Come

One of the biggest things I’m thankful for in this day and age is technology. While babysitting for a friend a couple of weeks ago, we were chatting as his wife was getting ready about how strange it is that we are getting to the point where people our age are now contributing to a new generation – one that will have access to technology from birth.  I remember, as a child, sitting next to the radio for hours (nothing’s changed there, then), cassette tape at the ready and my finger eagerly hovering over the play/record button, waiting for the chance to capture a favourite song. I remember when my parents brought home our first computer – I must have been about twelve or thirteen, and having absolutely no idea how web pages or e-mail worked. I remember a girl in my maths class being the first to get a CD burner, and being one of many kids who’d submit her a list of twenty songs… along with a five-dollar bill. I remember the days of Napster, and even though it took two hours to get a song, thinking it was the most amazing thing in the world. Don’t even get me started on the first time I was able to watch Doctor Who the same day it aired in the UK!  Heck, I remember how it felt three weeks ago when I got my first smart phone, being absolutely blown away by the fact that I could make my own ringtones, check Facebook, read blogs, watch videos, get directions and, best of all, stream live British radio which I could listen to on the go. It’s bizarre to think that my future children won’t experience any of these firsts – that they’ll have access to these things right from the get-go.

The reason this intrigued me was because recently, I found a collection of a whole load of television programmes I used to watch as a child. I burned them to a DVD, and set about introducing my husband to SuperTed, Gladiators and The Crystal Maze (why don’t game shows today involve adventure and strategy games against futuristic robots or in medieval dungeons??). When I first saw that these were even available, my husband said he hadn’t seen me as excited about anything as when I saw Sooty again, and I have to admit, I was ecstatic. 🙂 Now, I know I’m not the only one to cling to things that I enjoyed in my youth – parents across the world still play the records that were popular when they were young, grandparents do the same, and the mere mention of a popular eighties cartoon to many of my friends is almost enough to make them salivate. So what causes this phenomenon? Are we simply programmed to archive the memories of youth under a rose-tinted light?

I recently read about a study that came to the conclusion that “many 25-40 year olds don’t plan for the future because they prefer to reminisce about past times.” It showed the effect of nostalgia on current pop culture too, and the result is unmistakable: many movies, fashions, and music of late all have a significantly retro feel. Remakes of Star Trek took over the silver screen (huzzah!), children’s stories became box office hits, American Apparel lined high streets across the country with eighties-inspired gear like leggings, headbands and spandex, and the sound of new wave was born all over again. Now, as excellent as that all is, the more interesting question is that of why: why do the memories of a generation’s youth evoke such positive feelings – and why do we remember everything that filled it as being full of the best life had to offer? I think it probably has something to do with the fact that nostalgia, quite simply, makes us feel better.

I’m no psychological expert here, but my guess is that when our free time was unencumbered by chores, work, or bills, when we didn’t know anything of the world of world politics or international poverty, we had a happier and more carefree outlook on life – and that carefree outlook on life attaches itself to the memories of things that filled our youth, and thus we remember things perhaps more positively than they actually were. (Pulp’s Common People excluded – that song will remain epic regardless of generation!) According to that logic, when we re-watch a favourite childhood television programme or movie today and realise how dreadful it was (the Stargate film, anyone?), the disillusion should shatter, no? Apparently not. Today, even after watching the primitive eighties animation on YouTube, I get filled with a case of the warm fuzzies. Exposure to the things I watched while living the happy-go-lucky life of a child seems to evoke a sense of deja-vu of the mind, and consequently after said 5-minute cartoon, my thoughts are transported to a time when life was simpler and impressions were fresher  – and I end up feeling more positive.

It seems somewhat of a paradox that in the current technological age where a new model of iPad is out quicker than the entire lifespan of the Dreamcast, the Internet and range of ever-expanding TV channels are used widely to re-live experiences from the past. We watch all the programmes, films, and music videos we listened to when we were young, and the entertainment industry is capitalising on it, creating new versions of old favourites. We listen to a song we haven’t heard in twenty years and remember all the words, yet we can’t remember the phone number of someone we called last week. And the evolution of social networking sites have allowed us to get back in touch with people we knew ten or fifteen years ago – often, in the prime of our youth.

Yes, reliving things from the past can evoke positive emotions today. But on the flipside – if we remember things in a rosier hue than was perhaps real; do we run into the danger of stifling the possibility of new things, or worse, airbrushing our own personal history? If the entertainment industry is recycling old styles, shows, and trends, are we discouraging the potential for new ideas?  If the new wave and punk sounds of the late ’70s/early ’80s are being recycled twenty-five years later, then that bodes terribly for the future of music – in middle age, every radio station may be flooded with another wave of rap, auto-tune, and Ke-dollar sign-ha. By continually reminiscing about the “good old days”, is there ever going to be anything new? As well, the very essence of who we are as people is based on our accumulation of memories – if those memories are in fact distorted, then how can we look back on our life and say it was really what we think it was? Maybe I’m going off on too much of a sci-fi tangent, but the question fascinates me. I think it’s incresibly interesting how generation after generation latches onto the same period of their life and holds it in such high regard, and I’m interested to know why. Nostalgia can be a great thing – and though the consequences of reminiscence can evoke short-term positivity, I think there’s also a danger of overdoing retrospect. We may end up mentally re-writing our own existence, or hanging onto a rose-tinted past so tightly it suffocates any possibility of original thinking in the future.

What do you think? Why does each generation seem to latch onto the same period as “the good old days”? Are we conditioned to Photoshop our past to make us feel better in the present? And what effect is nostalgia going to have on the future of the entertainment industry? Lots of questions… I suppose I’m feeling rather pensive today. Pardon my ramble, but if you can’t do it on a personal blog, where can you… And bonus points for anyone who knows where the title of today’s post is from 🙂

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33 comments

  1. I mean, you said it yourself. Back then (yes, I totally just typed that) things were easier and more simple. We didn’t have the huge amounts of pressure we experience today. Pressure to succeed, make enough money, to be socially conscious etc etc. Each experience was untainted by all the emotional baggage we seem to accumulate over the years. We could enjoy it all without secretly wondering when bills are due or what time dinner is at that place with those people or remembering that you need to have your car breaks checked or worrying about dentist appointments.

    I think that’s why a lot of things I loved when I was younger gives me warm fuzzies.

    Great post. 🙂

    1. Thanks 🙂 It’s so strange to think about “back then” – my husband and I were talking last night about how “when we were young,” Pluto was still a planet, and how strange that’ll be to teach the solar system without it to our future kids…

  2. Very interesting post Em. Even if it did make me feel a bit old LOL. Really great take on the positive and potential negative of nostalgia – I’d love to be inside your brain for a day =) And The Crystal Maze looks great!

  3. nostalgia is a crazy thing. i know that i will sometimes do things just to think about going back to a time where life was simpler, where my friends and i ran all over town and it wasn’t a problem. where my parents knew what i was doing probably before i knew i was doing it (the joys of a small town!). where decisions usually didn’t have serious consequences, where we were provided for. it’s nice to look back, think about it, and yeah, sometimes to even watch those ridiculous shows/movies that we loved SSOOOO much and see how bad they REALLY were (and finally understand why mom and dad hated them so much!).

    for me, though, i don’t spend a lot of time dwelling in or thinking about the past. it’s so easy to let it creep in via facebook and whatnot, but i’ve made a conscious decision to NOT let that happen. people from high school have tried to add me, but i think ‘we weren’t friends then, we’re not friends now. sorry, but no.’ the future has SO much in store! why would i want to not think about the future in favor of reliving a mostly charmed childhood? why would i want to relive high school days where i didn’t have close friends? why would i want to relive college days that showed how much growing up i had to do? i’d rather enjoy the little bits as they are around but focus my attention on what’s ahead, on what’s coming, on that big, bright thing they call the future.

  4. It was much easier back then..I love your analagy on napster and 5 bucks.. I did the same, gave the guy next to me a 5 dollar bill and he burned me a disc. I remember how easy it looked, how even having a laptop made you SO nerdy and SO up to date on technology. I remember bubble screens and our school upgrading to XP was HUGE!
    Thanks to the blessing of NETFLIX, Taylor gets to enjoy a handful of childrens shows we used to watch.. Right now, she’s watching The Littles..
    I believe my own mother is in that age where she’s refusing to live in the present (technology) because shes remenesing about the past. she refuses to change inputs on the tv, turn on a computer, USE a mouse, dvd player, anything today’s day, because she doesn’t wanna learn. She finds more convenience in having someone else do it for her than sitting and learning how to do an email, check her bank account, etc. I told her she’d be SHOCKED at what she’d learn if we sat with her and taught her.. lol
    Im curious as to where the girls are going to be headed too.. To say “oh my gosh, remember when we had SMART PHONES?! That was sooo long ago..We now have ____”. Jered says he’s defintiely not living in our parents footsteps and IS going to continue with the streak of technology..I had a quote I had as a status awhile ago, and I still love it..
    “When I was a kid I didn’t have an Xbox or a Wii. I had a bike and a curfew. My mom didn’t call my cell, she yelled outside, “time to come in”. I played outside with my friends, not online. If I didn’t eat what mom made us, then I didn’t eat. Hand sanitizer didn’t exist, but you could get your mouth washed out with soap. I drank water out of a hose… and survived!”

    1. lol that’s a great quote! It does seem like a complete 180 on how we grew up… I remember going out every night to play with the kids from the street, we’d play sports, throw ourselves down hills, put on little shows, and get covered in mud, and we turned out fine!

  5. Interesting post, Emily…

    I often wish that my children had the same childhood I did growing up in the 60s and 70s…we played outside, and watched very little TV. We sang together as a family, and listened to a lot of records. We made up and performed plays for our parents. Eating at a restaurant was a special treat! For the most part, when our parents said, “Jump!”, we asked, “How high?” Those were the days…

    Wendy

    1. It’s a different world… I hope to raise my kids with SOME of the things I was raised with. It’s scary to think that children are being raised solely playing video games and watching TV 😦

  6. I think you hit the nail on the head. It all seems easier when we look back. And it pop culture, they know it’ll be a hit if it appeals to the masses as a piece of what they knew growing up. We’re comfortable with what we know.

    Had to smile when you talked about waiting by the radio to record your favorite tunes on a cassette tape. I did that, a lot!

  7. Come now, don’t be digging at Stargate… It’s one of my favorite films, and everyday i make sure i’m in and ready to watch Startrek TOS… Fantastic!!

    I think you’re right, We didn’t have to be concerned with Politics or other world issues at hand whether it be fearing Nuclear Meltdown, worrying about Libya or Iraq, the rising price of petrol or catastrophies that we cause while drilling for it… I don’t remember much from being a kid, my most distinct memory is when my brother passed away but looking back and remembering the fun and games that the 3 of us had growing up make me smile and make me think it could have been worse and I really appreciate everything about my childhood even though i know it wasn’t the greatest I had a family, that’s more than a lot of people have…

    Thank you Em for writing about Nostalgia, sometimes i forget that it was really happened…

    😀

    1. We still watch TNG every day, lol!! Sorry though… I just remember seeing the Stargate film for the first time in the cinema (I must have been what, nine?) and thinking it was the most AMAZING thing in the world, then watching it fifteen years later and it was just dreadful!! lol

      1. Ha… I watched ‘The day the Earth stood still’ THE ORIGINAL the other day… It was so awful it was amazing… don’t you think that makes it even better…!!!

  8. “Are we conditioned to Photoshop our past to make us feel better in the present?” i think that’s the best way to phrase it 🙂 i wish i could answer that question. it does seem that every generation looks back and thinks theirs was the best of everything. personally, i prefer the music of the 50s and 60s (hellllo, motown :)), but i love the tech used in movies today. J misses hand drawn disney movies, but there are just somethings you can’t have back. i am not immensely fond of the rehashes from my childhood. i’d rather the originals be released (nickelodeon’s bringing back 90s shows :D). i do think it stifles real creativity and originality, and i’m hoping we break out of that mold soon

    1. I hope so too. I was so pleased when I saw the poster for the upcoming Winnie the Pooh movie and saw that he hadn’t been made over for the 21st century; it looks like the same animation I loved as a kid 🙂

  9. I totally live in the past. Music, TV shows, old pictures… and on and on. I know I had a great childhood as well as a great adolescence and it’s hard not to look back on those easier days when I didn’t have to worry about bills and work and chores.

  10. I am a person who has always lived in the past.
    I think I was one of the only people in my graduation class that did not want to graduate but stay in school forever.
    I think I somehow new that things would never be as carefree and simple anymore.

    I think a huge part of nostalgia is also that we tend to only remember the good things of the past. The human brain is conditioned to forget about negative things more easily and paint a pretty picture…. but then again, I think this is a good thing. We need to be able to go back to places in our minds that make us feel comfortable and safe. It’s like our brain is going on a mini vacation.

  11. Yes, you’re right. We do tend to look back and think life was better “back in the day.” But I think this is part rose-tinted, and part true. Rose-tinted because of course we’re going to yearn for our childhood; true because, like you brought up, I’m weary of the AMOUNT of technology we have and the effect it is already having on children. Kids have cell phones at 5, choose to play video games over playing outside, and get on facebook as 8. Those are a LOT of distractions at a young age!

    However, I’m seeing our generation recognize this, and I’m realizing that we are going to be a generation of parents that might be a little stricter on our kids, because of the comparisons to our childhood. This, I think is a good thing.

    I already vowed that I would not show my children modern TV if I can help it (which often portrays over-glamourized children) and just buy the DVD pack of Pete & Pete. I don’t care what anyone says, our shows were “better” in the sense that they had a freakin’ brain.

  12. I think I’m a few years younger than you are, but I totally remember sitting at my radio waiting for my favorite song to come on too! It was like the coolest thing ever, back in the day. I’m constantly reminiscing about my past and wishing I could go back to the ‘good old days’ but in terms of technology and human advancements, I love that I can experience all of them too. My iPhone and my iPod and my laptop are 3 of my favorite possessions, I can’t believe I used to live without them!

  13. thank you for reminding me about some of these programmes! I loved superted as a kid and I could probably still sing you the gladiators theme lol……

    really insightful post em, you’re definitely one of the smartest ppl I know!

    1. Awww!! ❤

      Do you feel the power of the gladiators… do you have the something… and the skill… do you have the something something to be a winner, it's not for beginners, deep down in your soul… are you a GLADIATOR!! 😀 Almost!

  14. I think it has to do with the body’s ability to forget pain and focus on the positive? I think that we tend to look back on pretty much everything w/ rose-colored glasses, whether it’s childhood memories or even something not so great like a failed relationship. Time heals all wounds so after a certain point, you look back and remember the good instead of the bad…

    Interesting post, Em!

  15. I’m sure all readers smiled as they remembered the same experiences of encountering each of those technological advances for the first time. I had completely forgotten about the hours and hours I stayed within earshot of the radio and rushed back to place my finger on the record button every time one song ended, and I strained to hear the next one start, hoping for a pay-off of whatever song was popular. My kids won’t relate to this memory, and I wonder what it is of their generation that they’ll miss in thirty years.

  16. I think it is that back then everything was just so much easier. No bills, no real responsibilities, we could spend the day next to our radios, ready to hit record & play to make a fabulous mixed tape. It was just easier.

    And I’m curious to see what firsts the generation we’re producing will experience. Not everything has been created yet, and I’m sure there will new things that our kids get to have firsts with, some of which will probably amaze us.

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