I’m feeling nostalgic today. So I’m going to post a lengthy quote from Ted V. McAllister over at Front Porch Republic, because it points out something obvious that many of us don’t think about very often:
The tendency to think in terms of generations, of generational experiences that define an age cohort, is a product of speed. During ages when change is glacial and when technology remains almost constant for decades or centuries, when social and economic conditions alter at a pace that requires historical analysis to detect—during such ages the experiences of life are amazingly consistent across generations. A man might very well assume that his father, his grandfather, and his grandson all participate in the same culture, the same economy, the same religious beliefs, the same constellation of experiences that shaped his identity. People separated by perhaps two hundred years share the same “relevant” knowledge or beliefs. They all belong, as it were, to the same civilizational generation. In some sense one might claim that these people are bound by historical memory and have no reason for nostalgia.
Much of the human story, however, includes people who live through very rapid change and who experience themselves occupying a distinct time or age. They understand that something significant enough has changed as to produce a before and after experience, leaving them aware that there is no going back. For a man born in the United States in 1920, for instance, his lifetime seems full of such transformations. A great depression, a world war, and a subsequent economic transformation (to say nothing of the attending changes in society, politics, and religion) certainly set his generation apart from his parents and his children. Things had changed dramatically and rapidly, and the austerity of his teenage years followed by the nationalistic regimentation of his twenties, gave his life, his beliefs, his fears and expectations, a shape that fit no previous or later American generation. He knew that he and his generation were different.