Tarantino, Newspapers and Antisocial Behavior

By Alex Walker

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?

A commuter train full of passengers engrossed in their newspapers.

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.

Republished from the SitePoint Design Newsletter

I kind of like the way time filters out the best stuff and doesn't leave history too clogged with the more trivial human creations. We've probably lost some good stuff from the ancients, but on the whole, the things people valued the most have survived down the ages in some form.

For a while I was afraid that more and more of the noise of today would be preserved thanks to the digital age, but now I'm not sure. It could be just the opposite. Are future generations going to want to deal with the terabytes (petabytes? exabytes? geopbytes?) of junk we are pumping out at the moment? I doubt it. Some commentators are even worried that the best of our digital content might not survive if we aren't careful.

Love the photo of the commuters reading the paper. Certainly does pour cold water over the notion that devices are making us more antisocial.

OK, now I'll shuddup and go back to staring absently through the window.


Haha smile . Staring absently out a train window isn't to be underestimated. Good thinking time.

In the mid/late 80's there was a lot of romanticizing of 60's music -- i.e The Big Chill, Tour of Duty (tv) and Levis ads rocking Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke, etc. As a teenger I remember feeling a quite dudded that I'd missed all this music, and instead had to console myself with 'Katrina and the Waves' and Michael Bolton. :-/

Only later I realized there were just as many Michael Bolton's around in the 60's -- they just never made it to a Levis ad.

I bet there are teenagers now looking at the 80's in the same way.

(I must say, I still think 1985-89 was an ordinary time for 'popular music'. You had to dig deeper off commercial radio to find the earlier REM stuff and Husker Du and a lot of the stuff I still play now. By the early 90's Nirvana and Chilli Peppers were getting played on mainstream radio.)


Yeah, the teenagers can have the 80s for all I care. Yich! I don't remember much good music from that era—except maybe some INXS songs … but I'm biased (and I'm sure I could remember more good stuff if I tried stuck_out_tongue ).

(EDIT: Just checked, and most of my fav INXS songs are from the early 90s anyhow. stuck_out_tongue O the years, o …)



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