Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Nostalgia's patient

My name's Polly, and I am a sufferer of nostalgia.

There, I said it. I wonder, placed within a supportive, hand-holding sort of environment, how many of us would also confess to this. Most people, I would predict.

You may think 'sufferer- that's a litle bit strong isn't it?  Well, if we were to be all learned about it (which we are, momentarily, forgive me) nostalgia in fact comes comes from the greek words 'nostos' and 'algus,' meaning 'return' and 'suffering.' The very word itself, therefore, makes no pretence that feeling nostalgic is always an easy ride.

This, in many ways, might seem odd. When I  first think of nostalgia, I picture sepia-tainted images, knitted jumpers, smiles and cosy fires. Why this is, I'm not sure, as I don't remember my life ever being particularly sepia-coloured, or having much access to a log fire. (Knitted jumpers, however, tick!). I guess this is very much the 'concept' of nostalgia as our culture has moulded it.

A manufactured, consumer-focused nostalgia is currently everywhere.Our lives can be solely constructed of  retro, vintage, antique, second-hand, 'not-really-vintage-but-kinda-look-like-we-are' clothes and things, (oh the things), if we choose. We can spend our days baking, drinking tea and handmaking everything- lovely! And I genuinely mean that- these things are wonderful, and I can't help but think to myself  'gosh- everything was so much nicer and more wholesome in the past- I wish it were like that now.'

And then I realise, wait- you were not even alive during this era you feel so attached to. You are recreating days you have never lived and sentimentalising a time you don't, really, know much about. Nostalgia only focuses on the good times, forgetting to mention all the less lovely, or at least, non-uber cool, things that happened. That is exactly why, compared with the present, which funnily enough I know very well in all its ups and downs, seems so much better.

At the same time, we can all feel deeply nostalgic for times we actually have lived, days passed, emanating only with the happy memories we have carefully attached, and often modified, to them.We all, at some point,  pine for the past, people, situations, places and long to return to them. The future can bring hope, but also uncertainty and fear. The present is too fleeting to ever capture. And the past, though it may contain regret, well, the past is safe. It has gone, and we survived it. It is, therefore, ours to remember as we choose to.

I wonder, through cherishing something so unreliable- our memories- or indeed eras that we have never even lived through, are our perceptions of the present consequently worse. The present day is falling victim to a comparison with an unreality? Longing for something we can never have again only makes the present more painful surely.

Maybe that's a little morbid. Perhaps nostalgia is becoming so integrated to our present that is now part of it,  in fact.. Let's also not forget the simple enjoyment we gain recreating all things old-school.  As we 'play' at being something or somewhere else, we return  to childhood in a way...yet another form of this nostalgia lark.

I sometimes wonder how people will look back at our present in the future. Will they, too, doubt their own era and cherish our own which we currently seek to escape? What would they recreate though- our love of nostalgia?  It could be a new era in which nostalgia pines for nostalgia itself.


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Can you hear me screen?

Scene 1:
 Man and woman walk in to a restaurant. Both seem to have made an effort, especially the woman whose hair is immaculately coiffed, nails finely polished and carved, earrings dangling playfully. Man and woman sit down on a table, candle placed between them,. (One of those candles in a wine bottle type things too- the best kind) The scene is set for a romantic evening of food, wine and interesting conversation.

Scene 2:  
After 30 seconds, man gets out his iphone and spends the entire evening staring at it, scrolling through who knows what, completely ignoring the woman and her nicely coiffed hair.

The end.

So, I'll admit, it won't be an Oscar winner (or nomination, sob); the script is a little thin currently, but this is a real-life epic, based on an episode inspired by a couple who sat at the next table along from me last night. I felt like suggesting to the waiter that the man should be served only virtual food through his iphone screen- he'd probably enjoy it more that way.His iphone screen was an unbeatable opponent to the lady opposite. Perhaps she wasn't what you might call a hoot, I don't know the gal, but nonetheless, please, Mr iphone, enjoy the moment, her presence, or at least the strangely faux spanish atmosphere La Tasca (scene of said incident) has to offer.

I am being too harsh on this poor fellow as I am well aware he is not alone. He is probably just another one of you or I. We are a world of screen enthusiasts, screen addicts, screen drones and sometimes, well it just makes me want to... screeeam. We might stare at beautiful countryside, only through another screen, our camera lens, and never have really seen anything. We sit on trains, surrounded by people we've never met and never will again, whizzing past scenery that'll never look quite the same again, and yet we stare at our screens. The days of awkwardly catching the eye of the person opposite us are rapidly fading folks, because, don't worry, we don't actually need to look at anyone anymore. It's ok, we have our soulless screens for company.

The word 'screen' of course means to protect, to shield.  And, when used in such excess, this indeed seems to be the role of our modern day screens. With protection naturally comes restriction, and we are increasingly losing our ability to just look, freely, at what is in front of us. To screen also means to filter, and I can't help but feel we are filtering out all those tiny details and experiences only the human eye and its awareness can detect, because that constant screeny glow is grabbing all the attention. 

This is a completely one-sided argument, I know, but I hope that's allowable. This isn't a well structured essay but a silly blogpost. I know screens have opened our eyes up to visions we never thought we could possibly see. We can experience two hours of incredible emotional and visual immersion through a film , and witness animals in the sub-sahara desert we'd never catch with our own eyes thanks to them. And I am grateful. I am.  But though screens have enabled us to look at things more than ever, I worry that if we let them dominate quite so much, we will eventually see far less.