I live in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, capital of progression in entertainment. As such, I don’t know if I could possibly be more saturated in a trend that future decades may well identify as the zeitgeist of our era. In the way that the 80s are stereotypically characterized by teased hair and overzealous synthesizers and the 20s are remembered for board-thin flappers and sexual revolution, I think our period might be historically defined by the beginnings of the technological takeover George Orwell prophesied. Only rather than relying on technology for every facet of both survival and comfortable living (as science fiction likes to predict) our era seems to utilize the majority of our technological strides for the very concept that makes my current hometown a tourist Mecca: entertainment.
In this day and age, we spend so much time sapping entertainment from our televisions, computers, and cell phones (more aptly known as “cellular devices” due to the increasing antiquity of actual phone calls), that it makes the deeply repressed wild child in me sick beyond Pepto-Bismol relief. So much so that I resorted to college-ruled paper for the crafting of this entry, just to spare my eyes the LED glare of my laptop as long as possible.
When I was a child, long before the invention of Smartphones, Rokus, iPads, and Netflix, I technically had far less access to information. In order to garner new knowledge via the answers to numerous queries, people and books already possessing said wisdom had to be sought out–and this process of learning could take far longer than tapping into your Wi-Fi and posting a thread on Yahoo Answers. But despite the hefty girth of old school dictionaries and the time it took to navigate them, the pre-MP3 world I was brought into was far more wondrous. For entertainment, we looked to nature to provide us with sand to sculpt, rocks to climb, mud to throw, trails to explore, and water to paddle. We looked to our toy box for blueprint-less Lego castles to build, Barbies to direct in plays, and whole worlds to fabricate from disparate pieces. We looked to our friends and relatives for tag between the cherry trees, trampoline acrobatics, and lava monster on the stairwells. And in the pursuit of new knowledge, where wise people and books were scant, personal experimentation in pursuit of an answer thrived. In all, it was a time when imagination and the endless joy you could glean from it ran rampant.
Now I’m not saying the child of my youth doesn’t exist anymore. Trying my hand at teaching elementary and middle school art for several years has proven that there exist many amongst the post-millennium babies who still get a kick out of seed-spitting contests, capture the flag, and playing the time-resistant “house.” But my observations have also yielded a great number of children taking cues from the modern adult: riveted with their iPhones, Angry Birds, Facebook, PSPs, and cable television. Sedentary hobbies that I fear may continue to escalate in child popularity.
Frankly though, I’m one to talk. My sister and I may as well have ushered in the child cell phone craze when at ages 9 and 11 we were envied by our peers as the only two children in school to possess brick-sized, antennae-toting Nokia 5110s. The year was 2001, Snake was one of the few 8-bit games a cellular device could support, and cell phones were still such an up-and-coming phenomenon that instead of confiscating mine when it went off in class one day, my fifth grade teacher merely laughed. But even as early prototypes of elementary school cellonistas, my sister and I only had them as safety precautions for the long, unsupervised walks home from school, not as idle distractions. And when cell phones began to proliferate throughout school systems by the eighth grade, my dad decided our exponential texting warranted the cancellation of our family plan, an act that may have deemed us social pariahs throughout high school, but ultimately did us and our eyesight a world of good.
Nine years later, sitting in a Hollywood apartment with my laptop blinking at me sleepily from the bed, my Smartphone sedate on the table, and my image reflected back at me on my boyfriend’s flatscreen TV, the thought of pre-adolescent children fixating on their digital devices with the same vim the characters of Her demonstrated with their Operating Systems is a frightening notion. I’m 23 years old, living in the age that witnessed the birth and demise of CDs, DVDs, and Blackberries; an age in which the rapidity of technological advancement grants our lifestyles increasing facility on an annual basis. And yet rather than celebrating the ease with which I can archive my music or send my sister messages via satellite, all I really yearn to do right now is ditch the muffled television conversations that eek through every Hollywood wall, throw my phone and its tempting crossword puzzles to the wayside, bid adieu to the computer that served as my life support and safe haven throughout college, and take up residence in a remote, mountain-ringed field somewhere.
For as an active participant in the age of intensifying technological reliance and reproduction, it’s nerve-wracking enough pondering ways to go about shielding my future children from the comparably substandard Harry Potter films long enough for them to read the books. With this and similar obstacles amassing by the day, it’ll be a wonder if I can convince these pending Moon babies that racing you to the other side, climbing to the highest peak, and letting your imagination run away with you provides entertainment that simply can’t be found by poring over an iPhone.
This morning, I woke up naturally at 7:30, blindly snagged myself on my boyfriend’s fan, woke the entire apartment complex when it came crashing down, and got to thinking about decades.
Thus far, I’ve only lived through two full decades, but in that short twenty-year span it’s insane how many things have evolved (and not just the things attributed to Steve Jobs’ tyrannical ingenuity). Since the 90s, cell phones have diminished in size from the hulking Monarch brick Agent Dana Scully had to pull a 3-mile antennae from before she could address her urgent callers, to the boxy Nokia that went off in my fifth grade class with no penalty (because my sister and I were the only children in the country who had cell phones in 2001), and finally to the streamlined smartphone in every modern four-year-old’s Gymboree shorts (although, if the increasing size of the iPhone is any indication, looks like we’ll be right back there with 90s FBI setbacks in a fortnight). CDs swept in to antiquate cassette technology and just as quickly yielded their lionization to MP3s. Pig tails, butterfly clips, and crimpers dissipated with the stardom of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Melissa Joan Hart. Britney Spears riled up mothers about teen inappropriateness, shaved her head, and sought out Autotune to salvage her career, and the formerly hirsute Hanson became a symbol of ignominy that those of us over twenty continue to joke about in embarrassment. Pop culture drama morphed from Corey and Topanga’s relationship to Camille Grammer’s Real Housewives divorce, and lovable little Nano Pets segued into some really angry birds.
So many definitive constituents seem to be jilted with each passing decade that one can only wonder what will characterize our current decade for future generations. Will the ever-increasing speed of technological advancement continue to make things passé so quickly that we’ll hardly retain anything to attribute to this decade? And what will people even call this time period? The teens? We certainly haven’t made things easy for ourselves, a fact that might explain why contemporary pop culture seems so keen on reincarnating the past. We move with such rapidity toward an indiscernible future that we practically necessitate the familiarity gleaned from Kanye West’s 80s riffs, period pieces like Madmen and Downton Abbey, and the Cary Grant chic channelled by Justin Timberlake and pre-Don Jon Joseph Gordon-Levitt. With all our forward progression, it seems we just can’t resist the urge to look backwards.
Personally, despite the groans of protest from both my boyfriend and my mom, I would have loved to have lived in the 80s. In lieu of the spiraling 90s, the 80s were a time period that granted you the freedom to wear your hair as big and as teased as you wanted without being compared to Snooki, a larger Bono and B52s fan base to network with and firsthand access to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” music video, and the ability to attend beach pier parties featuring shirtless, long-haired saxophonists akin to Timmy Cappello in The Lost Boys. I would have danced my way down city avenues Cyndi Lauper-style, River Phoenix’s portrayal of Chris Chambers would have stolen my heart (as if it didn’t in this day and age), and I’d never leave the house without a pair of tri-colored legwarmers to accompany my white Nikes. I would have been as excited about Tears for Fears’ upcoming album, trippy surrealist films (The Heathers, anyone?), and the Rubik’s Cube craze as all those arcade mongers who got to experience the Pacman beta.
But for all the griping I do about my actual childhood era, I can’t deprive the 90s of all merit. Yes, the platform tennis shoes, leopard-print pantsuits, and hair wrapped to look like horns on a Visigoth helmet resulted in one of the most vomitrocious band wardrobes ever assembled, but I certainly wouldn’t be the harmonic woman I am today without the guidance of the Spice Girls. And once you get past the teen blarney of Saved By the Bell and the childhood trauma instilled by X-Files episodes your parents shouldn’t have let you watch, you realize the 90s hosted some TV gems: the enduring hilarity of Seinfeld, The Simpsons in their season 7 heyday, Mr. Not-Yet-Big grilling suspects in the original Law and Order, Patrick Stewart charting our course in Star Trek: Next Generation, all the donut-fueled madness of Twin Peaks, and, of course my new obsession, The X-Files, from which “Bad Blood” and “Humbug” are writing genius.
In summation, I rescind my previous sentiments. I suppose without any personal 80s anecdotes to regale my peers with, the 90s aren’t such a bad time period to look back on in this present, indeterminate decade.
Besides, we all know the 1940s Sam Spade era is really where it’s at.