Yes, I know about mindfulness, the Power of Now, the importance of the Here and Now, I live in all that most of the time, but today a moment of severe frustration pushed me into a wistful mood. The frustration was caused by my inability to get through to my local Council, by being quizzed at length by a recorded voice and then offered five options with four sub-divisions, none of them remotely related to my query, until I banged the receiver down. This had taken ten minutes on the phone, at my expense, wasting both time and money.
That’s when I suddenly remembered with longing the extinct switchboard operators of the past, the crisp-voiced competent real human beings who put me through to the desired extension in the blinking of an eye, without asking me to repeat the first line of my address or any other irrelevance. I really longed for them to return – whose idiotic idea was it anyway to get rid of them? – and then one regret followed another, until I found myself overcome by undiluted nostalgia. Here’s a very mixed bag of some vanished elements of life that I’d like to have restored:
Personal letters from real people, in hand-addressed envelopes, instead of deadly uniform emails which look the same whether they contain a declaration of love or some ghastly news. I still remember the excitement and joy I used to feel on recognizing a certain handwriting before slitting open the envelope. The letters I get these days are marked “Private and Confidential” and invariably contain a bill. Hardly enough to make my heart sing. Don’t get me wrong, I use and appreciate emails, only they make communication depressingly mechanical and characterless (like the recorded voice of Hounslow Council). In other words I want it both ways.
Next: privacy, a lost treasure. Mine’s fairly safe, but I am bothered by the mass of inanities poured out on social media, and by overhearing – willy-nilly – people’s mobile phone monologues on trains and in buses. Some are far too intimate for comfort (mine, although obviously not theirs). The only ones that don’t bother me are in Polish. Or in Urdu.
I long for an absence of celebs, and of the continuous reports in the popular press on who sleeps – or no longer does – with whom, with juicy details promised on the front page. I can’t even buy my (less popular) paper at the local newsagent without being confronted with this burgeoning sub-culture of strange, here-today-gone-tomorrow celebs, briefly famous for being famous. Apologies to those who find them interesting; I don’t.
Can we please bring back eye contact and look at each other occasionally instead of only communicating with our smartphones? I remember the time before the mobile phone era when individuals walking alone in the street and talking loudly were regarded as mental cases. No more, and yes, smartphones are wonderful, but they make us miss so much else. Again, it’s the lost contact with each other and with the surrounding world that worries me. Today I heard on the radio that extra funds and a small army of specialists will be made available to teach teenagers how to shake hands and make eye contact with another person. Of course being brought up by computer games omits such difficult skills.
I also long for …but that’s enough. Back into the here-and-now, full of tasks and possibilities. (Shall have to ring Hounslow Council again.) All this looking back becomes depressing and pointless, beside giving me a virtual pain in the neck, but little pleasure. Perhaps the American wisecrack of long ago has got it right: even nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.