Nostalgia (Part 2): The 1990s

This is part 2.  For part 1, go here.

Ah the 90s.  In all honesty, I didn’t much care for them, but that’s because I was a kid and being a kid sucked.  Then again, as I discussed in the prior post, nostalgia is part missing something that can never be reclaimed, not simply the state of mind I was in at the time.  So, what’s been lost to the annuls of history, or will one day be lost, yet iconic to this decade?

I enlisted Liz’s help for a list (this is not a list post–I hate those).  Here’s what we came up with:

  • Shopping malls: The family day trips with acquisition objectives.  Someone always needed shoes it seemed, and there was never a dedicated trip to a shoe store.  No, instead the clan was loaded up and sent off to the South Plains Mall (AKA “The Piece of Bread and Three Candy Bars” mall–my sister though that’s what the sign looked like), where mom and dad would divide and conquer, dragging us to multiple outlets for everything else that was running out or no longer fit.  Socks, bras, and jeans were the common items, and the proper brands for each were never at the same store.  On second thought, this might not be nostalgia at all.  Then again, there were the stops at the aquarium store, the nature store, and the McDonald’s–all in the mall.  Maybe it’s the idea of actually shopping that’ll be missed, replaced by the instant online ordering and one day shipping.  Searching for the right item was miserable, but allowed for instant gratification.
  • Cash: My dad still pays with cash.  I find it cumbersome now, yet it’s tangible.  At one brief point in my life I worked for tips, and while the pay was paltry, the envelope of $1 bills in my lockbox sure seemed like a lot of money.  Cash was fun, and exciting, and still somewhat of a mystery.  How did they get that security strip in there?  And a fat wallet sure made me feel rich.
  • Driving: I don’t see us as a society ever fully getting away from personal automobiles, but with the advancements of autonomous vehicles, it’s well within the realm of possibility.  And ride-sharing programs will fill the gaps.  In short, there will be far less of an immediate need for personal cars in early adulthood.
  • Bookstores: Once upon a time these were the only place to get books.  We were at the mercy of whatever they stocked, but that also made finding a certain book more exciting.  Now we can buy whatever suits our whim, and with endless choice comes decision anxiety.  Maybe this is more of a commentary on ecommerce as a whole, but the bookstore especially was such a fun place to explore endlessly.

I realize now that much of what defined the 90s was the technological advances, specifically the internet; or rather, the calm immediately preceding the technological storm.  The 90s was the last truly tangible decade, before the digital world.  It wasn’t necessarily disconnected, but the connections were slow.  Navigating the world in the 90s was more deliberate and time-consuming.  I daresay that it was a simpler time as a result.


Nostalgia (Part 1): The 1950s

I intend to make this a multi-part post.  I will initially discuss the concept of time-period nostalgia by analyzing the iconic 1950s, compare that to my generation’s equivalent: the 1990s, and conclude with a more personal annotation regarding my hopes for the 2020s.

Our present society holds a strong nostalgia for the 1950s.  Yes, there are hundreds of columnists who point out the fallacy of this filtered view of history, because everyone needs to criticize everything, I guess to make one’s name known as a writer.  Yet I’d hazard to make the assumption that the majority of the population is aware of the good and bad of this time period, and that few would actually want to live in that world right now.  But that’s not the point, so shut up. (Oh, and we also know that Christopher Columbus wasn’t the nicest guy to the natives, Martin Luther King Jr. had an affair, and Henry Ford only instituted the 8-hour workday because longer hours negatively impacted the bottom line–we get it, people are dicks).

Freedom from Want – admittedly a little before the 50s

The filtered view of history is intentional and self-imposed.  And everyone understands that it can’t be fabricated by any means, because you can’t go home again.

So why exactly is there nostalgia for this time period?  Without doing a deep research dive, I’ll make a theory based on my immediate knowledge as a historian.  First, what was gained:

The post-war economic boom combined with the prevalence of American manufacturing and the more democratic tax code at the time allowed for a large middle class.  This was because high-paying jobs were widely available to those of diverse skill sets and education levels, and the tax code de-incentivized wealth consolidation to the upper echelon.  In short, a lot of people made enough money to have a quality standard of living.

Second, the melancholy side of nostalgia evokes a longing for what once was but has now been undeniably lost.  This is a little more subjective, but I’ll make a few guesses:

  1. Television: this was a new technology that gradually became affordable enough to be ubiquitous.  Early television programming was therefore more innocent, simple, and family-friendly.
  2. Societal acceptance of children being outside: The older Boomers go on and on about this (yet locked their own children away).  Ironic that it’s actually a fallacy that the world was safer back then, but that’s the perception anyway, and the belief has undoubtedly shaped our attitudes about how we let our children play today.
  3. Housewives: I know this is a controversial subject, and I don’t care.  Gender roles aside, if one person was free from requiring employment, then that freed up a large amount of recreation time for all parties in the family.  Plus, there’s evidence to support a man’s sense of self-worth is correlated to how he stacks up to his wife’s economic viability.  Again, not popular, but you can’t ignore ingrained biological behavior.
  4. Societal Expectations: A bit of an irony, but limitless choice causes anxiety.  A more structured society therefore frees up the persistent mental debates over long-term goals.

Conclusion: people had more time, money, “freedom”, and clear behavioral guidelines.  Lack of life choice ambiguity and a reasonable guarantee of good wages, plus a generally positive view of the world being safer and more innocent, kept chronic stress to a minimum.  It may not have been the ideal time to break the mold, but it was a good time to live a secure and simple life.

Next: The 1990s


Further Reading (just scratching the surface of the above bullet points):

Cold and Snowy (Part 2)

Last year around this time I padded my lack of winter content with a January recap post of the prior year.

The list is shorter this time.  Apparently the promotion has sapped much of my creative energy:

Seeing a month of my life summarized with 3 boring-ass bullet points makes me want to reconsider some priorities.  Maybe I should volunteer?

Nah.  I’ll just drink more.


When the Pendulum Swings Too Far Back…

…In a rather comic, yet irritating example.

I downloaded the Anthem beta (which was a demo, by the way–there’s a difference), and began the sequence with a very basic character creation.  If memory serves, the character creation boiled down to a single option, which was this:

“Pilot Voice [Female/Male]”.  The default was female, but who exactly was “The Pilot”.  I pondered a moment, considering two implications:

  1. Our society seems to prefer female voices as the deliverers of information (i.e. Siri, Alexa, et al.).
  2. We’ve hit a point where “Girl Power” has advanced beyond the point of reason.  And in fear that failure to adopt this trend will lead to both social and financial ruin, Corporate America has jumped on the band wagon and now everything marketed is pro-girl/woman.

My conclusion, then, was that “The Pilot” was either a voiceover AI (a la Cortana), or that it was the player’s voice (me).  But which was it?

I debated, and landed upon an analysis of what would bother me more:

  1. The in-game AI would have a male voice (no real problem there).
  2. My character–me–would be a woman.

Were the choice made without my input, I would say “whatever” and move on.  But the choice was mine, granted unto me by BioWare.  What bothered me was the assumption, that the game would even make a default.  Why–if the goal is equality, and the in-game choice could have been neutral through simple programming, would it choose to go to the other extreme–the polar opposite extreme of which was what caused this ongoing social battle in the first place?

The assumption for the male player-character was originally an acknowledgement of the target audience.  Then we learned through market research that gamers were split pretty 50-50 men to women, so to consciously change the default to something other than neutral comes off as a bit…disingenuously pandering.  You already had female gamers.  You had both.  Why show a preference now?

I encountered this same problem when I booted up The Division 2 demo (again-a demo).  Although not as cryptic, the default was definitively a female character.

I’ve had this post sitting in my Drafts for a month now.  I wish I had a conclusion with which to finally conclude this, but I don’t think it even needs one.  I’ll leave it as an observation.  Formulate your own opinion.