The Past Century
Every generation will carry with it the best and the worst of times and it is comforting to feel nostalgic about a certain period of the past which we undoubtedly now hail as glorious and innocent. I was an adolescent of the 90’s and while the conversation then was very much about how we were making groundbreaking history in technology and had reached a new low of moral decadence, the past 20 years inevitably proved us otherwise. With the explosion of social media, our access to information has globally transformed our children’s experience of the world and their youth. It makes me curious as to how we will characterise this decade 20 years from now (if we make it that far). As for now, these are my rose tinted memories of my yesteryears.
When we were big on sending each other emails as a way to catch up, we longed for times when people would sit down, write letters on a writing pad and sign their names, fold it in an envelope, lick a stamp on the upper right corner and post it at the Post Office. Now, when communication usually comprises of words compressed in one alphabet/ abbreviations/ emoticons, our exchanges have morphed into reductive messages via Whatsapp/ Telegram, and I rather miss long emails. There is a certain clarity in deliberating over our thoughts and reflections before articulating it, and certainly receiving such prose from closed ones strengthens our bonds and understanding of each other. Checking my inbox to wait for an email by friends who I don’t see regularly, or friends I was separated from over the summer holidays were the thrill of my youth. There would be paragraphs of thoughts, discoveries, adventures, hopes and plans. Now we pretty much send instant messages on the phone giving each other basic soundbites and it just doesn’t have the same quality in terms of appreciating our inner truth. It is the cliche of our times that the more connected we get, the less intimate we become.
Face to Face Friendships
I really do feel relieved that growing up, Whatsapping or Instagramming friends wasn’t a thing. That we were not overly accessible to one another and could ration our communication mainly through lunch at school or over the weekend, and that we didn’t keep falling into misunderstandings that clumsy youthful messages over the phone is bound to risk. We developed our friendships mainly through being in the physical presence of each other. I have flesh and blood memories of my youth, not phone/ computer screen exchanges of visuals and one liners. Long conversations at various parks in the city about the complexities of growing up misunderstood (the generic conversation of every over-indulged teenager), singing pop songs in school trips together, squabbling in a train about what to do over the weekend, gossiping about school scandals and getting into uncontrollable fits of giggles during sleepovers. We spoke fully, made eye to eye contact, went beyond the skin and there was less room to hide. I hope these experiences continue to be part of the youth but what I see a lot these days are young friends sitting side by side, each staring into their phones as they gawp over social media updates.
The Mixed Tape
Ahhh… the mixed tape. Distilling all our favourite music from various albums and taping it in one cassette that obviously looks like an ancient relic today. It was probably something like 5 songs on Side A and Side B. The playlist format of the 90’s. I had George Michael, Lenny Kravitz, Prince, Portishead, Dido and Gabriele in mine. When I asked my younger brother (very much a product of the 21st century) of these stars recently his response ranged between blank ignorance or a quizzical ‘Didn’t he like just….die?’. Oh well. Anyhow, the mixed tape took time to complete. We would first need to collect the CD’s or cassettes and back then buying music was a treat at the record store. Curating them into one tape took time. We could only compile a limited number of music on each side so we picked only the best of our best. The whole process represented something that we have lost today – earning our gratification.
A safer world
I really believe we never had it so peaceful, relatively speaking, as we did in the 1990’s. September 11 didn’t happen yet. The Iran-Iraq armed conflict was over by 1991. The Berlin Wall came down in 1991. The IRA ceasefire took place in 1994 and so did apartheid in South Africa. The Vietnam War and Cambodian genocide was 20 years back in the past. Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya were intact – yes they were governed by cruel dictators and anyone who went against these autocrats were subjected to a hideous fate but it hadn’t yet descended into the hell on earth that it is today with every day being a gamble on your life.
In history class, the big world wars of the 20th century seemed to be behind us, supposedly events that took place during a more primitive time when our leaders failed in civilised diplomacy. Of course there was still ongoing conflict and oppression all around the world in the 90’s (Arab-Israeli conflict basically never really hit the pause button, Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE went through torrid years in this decade, the disintegration of Yugoslavia saw yet another genocide on the European continent, the Rwandan genocide horrified Central Africa, Taliban suppression which continues till today ravaged Afghanistan) but looking back now, it seemed like isolated and surmountable problems that we could somehow still try to salvage with effective negotiation. Yet today in 2019, the terrible contradiction plagues us like no other – we have gone 100 steps ahead in finding ways to know about each other and 100 steps behind in resolving our misunderstandings with each other.
As a teenager, or in the presence of anyone a generation or two ahead of me, it used to irritate me no end when those older than you would pontificate how their times were defined by class, respect and hard work, and most certainly superior to ours. As I peer over the shoulders of teenagers today, I understand the temptation to do the same and sniff at the youths for all their seeming privileges and lack of gratitude. And yet, for every group of youngsters whose only preoccupation are the Kardashians and liking Instagram shots of the lives of the rich and famous, I’ve also met incredible young people whose dream is to end the refugee crisis or regenerate a sustainable eco-system. They are also so much more equipped at both understanding the issues and finding the solutions to big problems owing to our progress in culture and technology. Juxtapositions are part and parcel of every era and while hindsight offers us the safety of perspective, it shouldn’t undermine the possibilities of this very moment in time. As apocalyptic as the state of the world can sometimes seem to be with extremists becoming the power holders of the day, I still really want to believe that we are the best that we can be, right now in the Ten-ties.