Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Nostalgia as Condemnation

Amazing author and extraordinary speaker Laurie Halse Anderson has challenged her readers to write 15 minutes a day for the entirety of August. Not sure if I'll actually accomplish it, but I intend to try, and post the results here.

I recently attended a panel discussion on children and technology, and had the unfortunate luck to sit next to an overbearing grandmother who spent most of the talk rocking violently in her seat, bursting with the need to expound on how SHE certainly didn’t grow up with technology, nor did her children, oh no no no, and they all had a perfectly lovely childhood so why do we need to RUIN childhood for children with all this confounded technology? I spent the panel being very angry with her, though I couldn’t quite pin down why. Why did it matter to me what this woman, whose name I didn’t even know, thought and felt about technology? Why did it affect me at all?

This same feeling has plagued me during any conversation where reminiscing turns into condemning the present. I’m not talking about the “Oh, remember how we used to slide down the stairs in a sleeping bag?” or “I loved that one show, Dungeons and Dragons!” conversations, but rather the “Pfft, you’re too young to remember the good old days” and “Man, cartoons today suck! They were way better when I was a kid!” conversations. (FYI: no, they weren’t better. We loved them because we were 5. Watch them now. They’re weird as hell.)

But why do these conversations make me grumpy? What is it about people talking about the past as a perfect time that drives me crazy and prompts me to defend the present like it’s my homeland or something? This is a question I’ve been grappling with for awhile now, and I think I’ve finally figured it out.  

The attitude of Then vs Now is so troubling because it assumes that everyone’s childhood is not only the same, but also wonderfully idyllic. It implies that by not doing it as people did Back Then, that my generation is Doing It All Wrong (tm Chow.com). It assumes that anything that deviates from their version of childhood isn’t valid. That anything other is also less than. And I find that disturbing for many reasons, but mostly because it narrows down what childhood can mean, and what it can encompass.  

Nostalgia as condemnation does not add to the conversation, and almost immediately negates any valid points the speaker might have. Not all things were better in that rosy past and they certainly weren’t better for everyone. Not all children grew up in a safe upper middle class suburb, and to act as though they did is to dismiss an entire population who might very well have benefited from those reviled changes. As John Green likes to say “The truth resists simplicity.” In fact, I’d argue that a fair amount of people in that past might wish they were living now, happily taking the annoying texting and bad-mannered cell phone use to also get the medical and household advances. Washing machines for everyone!

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