Nostalgia is selective memory
Nostalgia is an interesting phenomenon. Soothing to be sure. Yet, it tends to selectively focus on the most comfortable regions of our memory. As time passes, we remember the good, and let uncomfortable memories slip quietly into the deeper recesses of the mind. When that happens, it leads to wistful editorials like that entitled “Less InformationMore Bliss” that appeared in the June 24, 2016 edition of the Chronicle.
The editorial suggests that somewhere between 30 to 50 years ago, life was simpler, more satisfying, and in every way better than the present age. It goes on to imply that the absence of cell phones, the presence of newspapers, the 6 o’clock news, occasional arcade games, playing outside, family oriented television, absence of public profanity, prayers before meals and bed, come together to prove that young people need less information and that ignorance is bliss. Yet, in all reality, nothing could be further from the truth. As defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, ignorance is bliss means not knowing something is often more comfortable than knowing it. Alternately, the Urban Dictionary defines it as a phrase used to falsely justify apathy on the given subject in the form of a catchy cliche. A prevalent saying of the people in North America when confronted by the truth.
Neither the 1950s, 60s, or 70s were anywhere near as idyllic as the editorial suggests. Evidence to the contrary may be found in the economic downturns that occurred each decade. Additionally there was the cold war, fear of nuclear annihilation, the Korean War, Vietnam, the assassinations the John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement fight against racism, massive anti-war demonstrations, Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, the resignations of Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon, the beginning of the demise of organized labor and job stability in the old line industries. This doesn’t mean everything was going to hell in a hand basket, it wasn’t. But things were changing! Rapidly! Taken collectively, there was a mix of good and bad, just as there has been throughout history, down to and including 2016.
Although I strongly disagree with the sentiment that we need less information and more bliss, that’s not what disturbed me most about the editorial. That distinction is reserved for the closing paragraph that suggests young people today are somehow less than young people were in earlier decades. Even more disturbing, is the conclusion that the children of young people in twenty years, will somehow be even worse because they view their youth as a good thing. What hogwash!
To suggest that kids today have witnessed steady decline through successive generations does not comport with facts. Are children of successive generations culturally different from each other? Of course they are! Times change! The culture changes! And young people today are products of their times, as we all are. Does that make them worse? Not hardly. Young people today are more informed than their forebears (including this 68 year old) precisely because they have access to information undreamed of by earlier generations. Having seen who they are and what they are capable of, I disagree that young people, today, tomorrow, or in 20 years will be worse. Indeed, they will almost assuredly be better than their nostalgia driven detractors. Precisely because information they develop will be used to better understand and resolve the many problems their parents and grandparents created and so shamelessly ignored. In closing, take note! The only thing wrong with young people today is that I’m not one them!
Anthony F. Maciorowski, Ph.D