Nostalgia and technology today

Oh, How time flies, said St. Paul, and it’s true. Kim Carnes had the number one hit of 1981 with “Bette Davis Eyes” and seeing it once again on YouTube instantly carried me right back 30 years to MTV in my dorm room, with snacks and friends and lots of laughter (it is a fun song to make fun of). But nostalgia (longing for the past) is precisely one of the main challenges of the Internet, and in particular YouTube: how should we enjoy reviewing the past without becoming too sentimental about it? It seems particularly challenging to me because fostering sentimentality seems like one of the main, though perhaps unintended, aims of YouTube and other media sites like it. Most of us have a large bank of memories that serve us well, recalling events that make us joyful, sad, or sorry for our mistakes. But it has always been a kind of danger to dwell too much on the past because emotions are powerful, and if left unchecked can create a longing for “memory and desire”, the basis of romanticism, which T.S. Eliot thought could function as a kind of heresy one must be careful around.

While no Eliot scholar, I do agree with the need for moderation and caution in the use of memory. Music, movies, sports, and politics have their moments in our lives, and some of those moments “burn” into our souls because they are associated with emotions. Emotions can lead us easily to distractions in doing our real duties and from real people. With technology it’s now so easy to rebuild those memories of “the glory days” (which of course are really only glorious in our minds), and which seem to be most powerful in the age range of about 16-21; not surprisingly, these are often the years of most fun and least responsibility for lots of people.

I remember a janitor in the college I attended saying “Enjoy life now, ’cause it gets real hard soon,” a statement that made me smile at the time (I was following his advice on the first part of the sentence), but I thought “Come on, every older person says stuff like that!” However, his advice turned out to be one of those informal personal maxims that really has stuck, because of course now that I’m older, it’s true. The “more responsible we get”, the more humanly difficult our lives become. We need to bring St. Paul’s “time flies” back into perspective, and seek the Life that never ends, the one for which we have the deepest longings. Jesus’ Resurrection has opened that longing to us, and our souls rejoice. In the meantime, let’s enjoy our nostalgic moments in it’s moderated-supernatural light. Hope in eternal happiness completes the picture.

Speaking of souls, the Plimsouls composed one of the best power-pop ballads of the 1980s “A Million Miles Away” (interestingly many songs have this title). If you were born in the San Fernando Valley before 1970, feel free to shed a tear.

Friday night, I’d just got back…I had my eyes shut, dreaming about the past
Thought about you while the radio played..should‘ve got moving, some reason I stayed
I started drifting to a different place…
I realized I was falling off the face of your world…
And there was nothing left to bring me back!
I’m a million miles away…
And there’s nothing left to bring me back today…
Took a ride, I went downtown…the streets were empty, there was no one around
All the faces that we used to know…gone from the places that we used to go
I’m at the wrong end of your looking glass…
Just trying to hold on to the hands of the past and you…
And there was nothing left to bring me back!
I was a million miles away…

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