I wonder if previous generations look to bygone days as often as we do? After all, nostalgia is a hot topic at the moment as shown in our increasing interest in vintage clothing and bouffant hairdos, antique furniture and aged crockery. Frugality, reminiscent of the war years, is en vogue too; making do and mending, growing our own (competition for allotments is fierce in urban areas) and the struggle against food wastage, not to mention the rise in our frequenting of charity shops and the like for the hottest (nylon-inspired) fashions.
But is it just the style reruns that are causing us to look to the past? I doubt it. Our interest in our family history has swelled dramatically in recent years and is shown in the increase in the number of people logging on to websites like ancestry.co.uk or myheritage.com. Our TV habits too show our interest in how things used to be with costume dramas now the ultimate in feelgood entertainment. And, according to research, we are reading more family history magazines and watching more TV programs like ‘Who do you think you are?’ than ever before.
Perhaps it is recession-fueled financial insecurity that has powered a nationwide obsession with days gone by? I think this has a lot to do with it but I suspect something a little closer to home. I think many of us feel so overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of day-to-day activities we have to cram in, (just getting the kids to school with homework, clean uniform, PE kit and lunch money brings me out in a sweat) that many of us yearn for a more simple existence.
As a society we seem to be naturally seeking solace in the past without even realising. We yearn for the predictability of it.
It may have been tougher back then with fewer conveniences and comforts (no dishwasher…loos in the garden!!!) but it seemed stable and safe. Relationships were more committed (fewer divorces); families were closer, physically and by extension, emotionally and we didn’t need to concern ourselves with nasties in our food or how fat our kids are.
In a society where information, changes, updates and innovation come thick and fast, where we are unsure of what the future might have in store for us, we look to the past to feel secure. Our grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t have TV or social media bombarding every aspect of their day-to-day, they had real conversations with family, real interaction with friends, they played board games for Pete’s sake, now, anything with counters and dice gets dusty in the cupboard or languishes in charity shops for years. I’m sure there are many who would correct me about just how difficult it really was because we look back with rose-tinted glasses on a society that, to us in the 21st century, just seemed so much more stable.
We pick and choose what we want to take from the way our descendants lived their lives, and I suppose that’s our entitlement, but to me it makes no sense that as a society we long for a sense of stability and predictability yet we are bored if we don’t check our smartphones every 5 minutes for the latest in the news, on Twitter or what our friends are up to on Facebook. That’s progress, yes, but I feel that the information overload from the plethora of electronic items that update us every minute of every day is, alone, enough to make us feel uprooted, as though we’re balancing on unstable foundations which could disintegrate beneath us at any moment. It’s no wonder that the past holds such interest for us.