Saturday, July 31, 2004

Life in the past lane

The cultural geographer David Lowenthal wrote in 1995,

For most of this and the previous century, the future was a bright and shining presence. Scientific progress, faith in social engineering, and impatience with tradition engendered countless cornucopian forecasts. The advances of technology, the visions of architects, and the dreams of science fiction had made such scenes familiar since the late 19th century. . . . These turn-of-the-century futuristic visions largely survived World War I and the Great Depression.

Indeed, they hung on longer than that in the form of fast and exotic cars! How nice to be looking at this essay ("The Forfeit of the Future") again when this site on "transportation futuristics" comes along (via, now noticed at slashdot).

Author of The Past is a Foreign Country, Lowenthal has thought a lot about our changing relationships to the past and the future.

Lived time is commonly dealt with in two lengths--a past recalled with pleasure or pain, and a future awaited with confidence or anxiety. As they age, individuals and institutions often engage in retrospect more than prospect, dwelling more on the past than on the future.

Culturally right now, we are like the old person. "Familiar faith in progress cedes to sour surmise that things were better than they now are or will be. Nostalgia for things past aligns with pessimism, if not dread, of what lies ahead."

Since the 1970s (speaking from one small lifetime) we have been awash in nostalgia. Something seemed to change about the same time decoupage and macrame came on the scene. These old new cars make me smile, sadly, to think about the future that never happened.

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