nostalgia

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 🙂