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October 23rd, 2020
This episode is dedicated to Morgan Anastasi who you can connect with on Twitter with the handle @Morgan_Anastasi.
So many yearn for the good old days, and in many cases, those good old days predate the entire life of the nostalgic. How can this be? How is it possible for someone to miss, or wish for a time that once existed but which someone has no direct experience of? There is certainly an impassable gulf between missing something experienced, like a loved one passed, and a time never even glimpsed. In comparison, the people who yearn for some future date are surely far outnumbered by those who yearn for some past time. The obvious difference that might be ascribed to this rides on the fact that we don’t know what the future holds, whereas, we have some notion of what it was probably like to live back in the 1920’s or even the 1490’s. But this difference is more subtle than first glance betrays, and the most impactful facets of the past thread silently into our present selves in ways that might even be insidious.
Culture, as a collection of mindsets, beliefs, ideas, patterns of behaviors and methods of decision making is a constantly evolving, mutating entity. Each of us located in a unique cross-section of all these intersecting flows of information. We add to the culture, each contributing an influence on the direction it will take next. But more important than the way each of us represents an intersection of cultural pieces, is the parts of culture that don’t influence who we are.
As an example, think about what it means to be on the cutting edge. Those who make a regular home of this edge are always read up on the newest aspects of some evolving arm of culture. The cutting edge of technology, for example.
Those who harbour and nourish a palpable nostalgia for some aspect of the past are likely not a part of the cutting edge. Certainly there may be strange outliers that manage to combine the two in unique ways (Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine, certainly seems to be an example), but for the most part, these two camps have a separation for fundamental reasons.
Nostalgia, if viewed with a pessimistically modern judgement might be described as “backwards looking.” But this betrays a vital aspect of nostalgia.
Yearning for a past golden time is not so much a realistic desire as it is representative of a way of thinking now misplaced in time. The “Nostalgiencia” don’t look backward so much as they are looking forward with an old perspective replete with beliefs, ideas, patterns of behaviour and methods of decision making.
The real question pressed by nostalgia isn’t so much whether it’s possible and preferable to “return” to simpler times as it is an implicit challenge to the future to be better. This comes with certain tradeoffs. Writing off the potential virtues of nostalgia may write off time tested wisdom. The industrial-techno evolution of human space, for example, has certainly suffered from a disappointing and willful ignorance of what simple aspects of our surrounding makes for good living. Obnoxiously simple things, like a little greenery and lighting that is perhaps anything BUT fluorescent white.
The Nostalgiencia likewise suffer in similar ways. The arena of coding and programming, for example, is dominated by a variety of person other than the artistic, literary types who are guilty of pursuing something once called “liberal arts”, and yet, an artist who knows how to code becomes a force of culture to be reckoned with. The limiting factors on artists in previous generations can be lifted with the leverage afforded by a little technological knowledge. Just imagine for a moment if every artist was suddenly imbued with the ability to code and program? How many fantastical and fascinating things would begin to pop up on the internet? One thing that such artistic types fail to realize is that the “look” and “feel” of the internet is dominated by the aesthetic taste or lack thereof of the people who have built the internet, which is primarily people who weren’t interested in the artsy things that lead others to become.. artists.
Artistry and nostalgia have strong ties. The history of art is an obvious topic for virtually everyone. Art has been a part of our culture since before we were writing words. The connection between nostalgia and technology on the other hand is perhaps totally non-existent, and part of this may be that the history that lead to computers is somewhat invisible because it made some monumental jumps that are somewhat counterintuitive. In many ways, the technological progress that has lead to laptops, super phones and Twitter was invisible because the progress involved something exceedingly tiny and because it evolved with exceptional speed once we learned how to make use of another invisible resource: electricity.
Technology in the modern computing sense is a facet of human exploration that feels as though it has no history, it has no memory, and because of that it looks more to the future, marching like a juggernaut into the unknown. Being without such roots grants this freedom of perspective or rather, freedom from perspectives that were more relevant in past times.
Both camps are incorrect by lacking the perspective and resources of the other, and those who can comfortably exist in both worlds can operate in each as though with superpowers. The oil painter who knows how to leverage social media in conjunction with an online store that uses print-on-demand technology to sell hundreds of copies of a painting all with a purely automated system that functions while that artist sleeps and paints is going to do much better than the artist who doesn’t know how to leverage all those things. And even more interesting is the fact that an artist with such a commercial system doesn’t even need to know how to code, but simply needs to understand what is technologically possible. An artist with such a livelihood can spend more of their time actually working on their art.
The inverse is also quite powerful, and not in the straightforward sense that an artist who codes doesn’t need to rely on a graphic designer to do “art work”. The artist doesn’t just bring skills, but a perspective that is rooted in different fundamentals and directions which then perceives the challenges, obstacles, and most importantly the opportunities inherent in other skills, like coding.
Nostalgia’s Edge is an updated use of older, time-tested methods for approaching the future. While it’s good to let go of old things that hold us back, it’s vital to take stock of the good, because, at the end of the day, the perspectives of the past are what got us to the present opportunity we have today.