Friday, January 2, 2015

Young and hip?

Christopher Caldwell on how we perceive 'modern':
.... We live life forward, as Kierkegaard said, but understand it backward. The problem is, we have lost the habit of looking backward. We assume anything that happened to us is somehow part of the ‘present day’. If you were born in 1971 and are due to turn 44 this year, then you will consider 1971 part of the era that contains this new year of 2015. You were there then and you’re here now — a member in good standing of the era of Uber, Twitter and Tumblr. Therefore, 1971 is surely hip, new and interesting to talk about.

Yet the very process that makes you consider 1971 a recent birth year reveals you to be an old geezer. To see how far you really are from some event, count the same number of years back from the event itself. While 1971 may be ‘only’ 44 years from today, it is just as close to the 1920s — the decade of Lenin, Bright Young Things, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone, ‘Yes We Have No Bananas’, Weimar inflation and Thomas Hardy’s last poems. How young and hip do you feel now? ....

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 is closer to the second world war than it is to the next presidential election. Reagan’s birth (1911) is closer to the publication of Goethe’s Faust (1808) than it is to us. When you consider this, the United States as a civilisation comes to seem older, too. Ben Franklin’s birth (in Boston in 1706) is closer to the 14th century — the century of Dante and Chaucer — than it is to us. The settlement of Jamestown, Virginia (1607) is as close in time to the life of Richard the Lionheart (1157–1199) as it is to the present. ....

A year...is not so much a unit of velocity as a unit of acceleration. [more]
I was born in 1946. When I graduated from high school it was less than twenty years after World War II. It is now about forty years since the end of the Vietnam War and twenty-five since the end of the Cold War. I am an old geezer.

Happy New Year!