‘Back in my day..‘
It’s a cliche but there are good reason that we romanticize the past – almost as soon as we’re old enough to have one.
Like computers, our human memory is a finite resource and we simply can’t retain everything we see. As time passes our memory tends to lock in the extreme experiences — the very good and bad moments — while the in-betweens gradually slip away.
You remember your first kiss but your first sandwich? Unless it was an amazing sandwich, probably not.
Culture works a little like that too. For instance, of the tens of thousands of songs recorded in 1965, today most of us may only know the 10 or 20 biggest song from that year. You probably know ‘Yesterday‘, and ‘Satisfaction‘, ‘Help Me Rhonda‘ and ‘Stop In The Name Of Love‘.
Thousands of less remarkable 1965 records lay forgotten in vaults somewhere — waiting for Mr. Tarantino — but from where we’re standing 1965 looks like wall-to-wall, all-time classics! Our collective memory slowly gets distorted.
Where am I going with this?
This photo of a 1960’s commuter train has been doing the rounds on Twitter recently. Each seat is occupied by a passenger submerged in their newspaper, assiduously ignoring their neighbor.
It made me chuckle. Today we often beat ourselves (or each other) up over ‘how antisocial our technology has made us‘. Forever pecking and scratching at our dark little mirrors while real hearts beat all around us.
It hints at a simpler time when people were better and took the time to talk to each other.
The photo above suggests what we probably already knew: There was no golden era — at least not in cities.
You may well know everyone in a small village, but cities put us in constant close contact with complete strangers — and we’re not natural herd animals. We’re built to feel weird about strangers.
But we’re also adaptable creatures and we’ve always had coping strategies. Before phones and tablets, we fumbled with our pipes or rolled cigarettes. We tugged down our hat brim or cocked a novel on one wrist. We listened to Walkmans or just stared absently out windows.
That doesn’t have to make us antisocial, does it?
Of course, that doesn’t excuse people from browsing Facebook at the dinner table.
Throw a spoon at them. You have my permission.