The Internet has changed everything!
If that isn’t an understatement, nothing is. The Internet makes more information available than ever in the past, and much of that information revolves around our reflections on “the past.” I am talking about good old-fashioned nostalgia. Reflecting upon and even yearning for the past is an activity with which we are all familiar.
Entertainment reflects the culture and vice versa. As a child growing up, whenever I heard older people discuss nostalgia, it was difficult for me to relate in the same way that they did. As the decades swirled by, I realized that my engagement with nostalgia was of course very much based on my personal experiences and my evolving culture. As a baby boomer today, I realize that for the first time, nostalgia’s nature has changed, and it is because of the Internet. Robert Trussell in a vanguard manner captures these concepts by summarizing our culture’s engagement with nostalgia (“Awash in Nostalgia” The Kansas City Star. November 15, 2015, pp. 1D, 12D):
“The past is a fickle mistress. Now that virtually the entire history of pop culture is available through YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and iTunes—not to mention cable channels such as TCM—we’re in a place where the past is the present. Everything is now. Nothing is grounded. Our cultural touchstones have become fluid and ephemeral.” (pp. 1D, 12D)
This is why I say (as contradictory as it might sound) that nostalgia is fundamentally different today. It has to be. The Internet has made it so.
I think that just one example of this is how young people today are experiencing the past compared to how I experienced the past when I was their age. I can clearly remember that as a teenager or a 20-something, relatively speaking, I rarely immersed myself into arts, music, and culture that were popular a generation or two ago. I was more focused on my generation. Today it seems that young people more frequently immerse themselves into the arts, music, and culture that were popular a generation or two ago. This occurs purely because it is all immensely more available via the Internet.
When Trussell states that that past is the present, everything is now, and nothing is grounded, this has important implications for our culture. It affects how we “do” nostalgia. This massive Internet pop-culture access has tremendous benefits for us, but I also think it presents some challenging new perspectives that could affect how we approach our world:
- Is our approach today truly new or are we reliving the past?
- What can we learn from people’s lives in the past as compared to our lives today?
- Are we capable of creating genuinely original ideas today?
- Have we learned from history or are we simply tragically repeating it?
These questions, and how we answer them, have implications far beyond just nostalgia. They challenge us to think more carefully about our culture, where we have been, and where we are going. They challenge us to think more carefully about entertainment and its reciprocal influences. Moreover, in these few short words, we are barely scratching the surface of this fascinating and important topic. In this week’s blog posts, I will unpack this topic a bit further.