Sometimes I play a little game. Thinking back, I try to remember a time when things seemed simpler, less confusing. While it’s impossible to stop the march of time, and in many ways, I realize that life has taught me valuable lessons, I occasionally wonder whether history swings on pivotal moments and decisions.
It can be comforting thinking back to a prior time. Often, it’s when we were younger, now believing that things were better. There is certainly an element of nostalgia inherent in that process, but to merely chalk it up to slipping on rose-colored glasses is missing a larger point, I think.
It is true that nostalgia ends up being mined by marketers and others and some products smack of that practice. Interestingly, there isn’t a great deal of research on nostalgia. A couple of professors conducted a study on the effects of nostalgia and consumer patterns. They both posited that our strong affinity for certain products is often formulated in our early 20s. Beyond that the research is slim.
Currently, Hallmark Channel has been playing reruns of the popular late 1970s family series, “The Waltons,” during weeknights. My wife and I will occasionally watch one of these episodes. We both watched it during our pre-teen and teenage years. Because it was a show that we both enjoyed, it’s been interesting to watch some of the episodes again.
The series actually began in 1972, in September. The pilot episode, called “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story,” aired December 19, 1971.
Interestingly, series creator, Earl Hamner, Jr, based the show on a book he wrote and published in 1963, called Spencer’s Mountain. From the Wikipedia entry about the show, we learn that it was Hamner’s rural childhood growing up that provided him with the basis for the setting and many of the storylines for the book and later, the television series.
It’s interesting watching the show now, some 40 years later. My own life experiences certainly frame this second viewing of the program. I’m also aware of and am reflecting back on the period of time when I watched it for the very first time. Currently, I’m working on a book of essays, and several look back to periods earlier in my life.
I’ve posted about this before; this reflecting back, and the need for it to be much more than mere nostalgia. I think there’s value in remembering our past, recognizing the power it has on the present and the future. I think there are lessons to be learned from prior periods and those who came before us. Certainly, we’ve missed out on opportunities in the past to shape our world in a way that could have been different, and perhaps, better.
Thinking back to the decade when “The Waltons” ran, I’m reminded that we had a choice to do something about our energy usage. Our president during the middle years of that decade, Jimmy Carter, told the American people that turning down their thermostats, carpooling, even “parking” their cars “one day a week” was “patriotic.” Americans weren’t buying it. We’ve just come through a period of time when driving SUVs getting 12-15 mpg was seen as “patriotic” by some. Now, we’re 40 years further down the road from Carter’s suggestions to lessen our dependence on oil and we’ve done nothing to wean ourselves from our oil-dependency.
I enjoyed being in Boston on Saturday. I was reminded, walking through the Boston Common, and spending time in Copley Square that my ideas about cities and their development have been strongly influenced from reading Lewis Mumford.
Mumford hated skyscrapers and wrote numerous essays, articles, and entire books, about sustainable development, as well as saner practices for enhancing urban environments. He was considered one of America’s last public intellectuals and men of letters. Yet, his ideas have gone unheeded, too. In fact, being intellectual is derided by many Americans. Instead, we continue down a path that seems impossible to turn back from.
Sadly, it appears that we’ve failed to learn much from our past, our present suffers, and the future isn’t as bright as our so-called leaders and technology evangelists have duped us into believing.