As a kid in the 1960s I wondered if the future would be anything like the world depicted on The Jetsons. Would we have flying cars? Food that cooked in an instant? Or phones on which you could see the other person?
I expected to be surprised by the innovations of the future, but I didn’t expect so many things to disappear as a consequence of those innovations.
I have been fascinated with cameras and radios for as long as I can remember, and I have always had a fondness for newspapers and maps. These objects gave me pleasure, not only because of their function, but also because of their design, and the way I knew how to operate them. I enjoyed operating them. It pleased me to press an actual shutter button, fine-tune an FM dial, fold a daily paper over just so, or unfold a road map in order to plot a route.
I also enjoyed using telephone books, writing handwritten letters, and listening to music albums all the way through. I owned my first record player at the age of five. I had a stereo in my teens and twenties, a cassette deck in my thirties, a CD player in my forties, and an iPod in my fifties. All of which are now obsolete.
If you had told the ten year old, Jetsons-watching me that someday I would carry in my pocket a device the size of a Pop-Tart which functioned as a phone, clock, camera, radio, television, movie theater, newspaper, map, calendar, photo album, library, mailbox, calculator, flashlight, compass, notebook, drawing tablet, encyclopedia, bank, shopping mall, and much much more, I would have found that pretty hard to believe.
The innovations of the future, as it turns out, are mostly newer version of things we already had, only we don’t really have many of them anymore. And I miss them. I miss them terribly sometimes. And I wonder if this is simply nostalgia. Or is it something of larger significance?
Objects certainly hold more meaning than apps. And they are also more pleasing to the senses. I think this is why vinyl albums have made a come-back. It is also probably why my local bookstore is thronged with people on the weekends. Who knows… maybe radios will be cool again someday. Maybe letter writing will become a thing. (It could happen.)
Nostalgia for outdated objects must be a common aspect of aging, and I think it is particularly profound for my generation because so many of our objects became virtual, and the switch seemed to happen so fast.
It makes me feel old to have sentimental feelings for objects which no longer exist, or are now in scarce supply, and which younger generations seem to have no regret about losing. Even though I love my smart phone, use social media, and consider myself fairly tech-savvy, I feel old-fashioned due to my grief about the loss of things that used to be.
I also feel antiquated due to some of my old-fashioned ways. I still keep a paper calendar on my desk, and still own a radio and a CD player. I watch cable TV, print my photos, own an actual address book, balance my checkbook, and sign my name at the end of emails. I also print out significant emails, which I then place in a three-ring binder for posterity, an activity I’m sure most members of the younger generations would find quaint. Laughable.
(Though they won’t be laughing when The Cloud malfunctions.)
I wonder if my grandchildren will feel nostalgic for outmoded objects when they are my age. And if so, what in the world will they be? I would have never imagined the future we have today, which is amazing, but far from ideal, and will someday be as laughably old-fashioned as me.