The age of post-nostalgia: Why hobbies have gone the way of the dodo
Handwritten greetings cards, diaries, collecting certain objects, playing chess or musical instruments have all but disappeared.
What will people miss in coming years? I mean, it seems like they no longer make things that you can miss. What nostalgic mementos will the plastic world of today leave behind it? Who will look back 30 years from now with a collector’s fondness at a laptop, a cell phone, a credit card or a Keter plastic chair? These things will never be antiques, in that same warm, homey sense of an oil lamp, Primus burner, grandfather clock or gramophone. Will the children of the 2000s, who know only plastic and rubber toys − designed to lose their appeal quickly so that parents will buy them more of the same thing − hark back in adulthood to these Transformers action figures the way that previous generations did to handmade wooden toys?
A Swiss physician named Johannes Hofer coined the word “nostalgia” in the late 17th century from the Greek words nostos (homecoming) and algos (pain, ache), to designate homesickness. And indeed, people who grew up in a home that had real character have something to miss. There used to be homes like that: When you entered them, you could tell who lived there by the furniture, by the decorative objects, by the pictures on the walls, by the books in the bookcase; at the very least, you knew what country you were in. Are the children of the 2000s, who are all being raised in the selfsame apartment, with the same living room from IKEA, with the same LED TV screen, with the same PlayStation console, fated to miss their standardized living spaces?
And people had handwriting. They wrote letters. Even an impersonal letter that was handwritten was personal, because it was singular and also inescapably intimate; the handwriting reflected the writer. People wrote their own Rosh Hashanah greeting cards, and cards for birthdays and family occasions. Nowadays, on the Jewish New Year, the post-nostalgic person gets an email or text message that was sent to another 200 contacts, while on his birthday he gets an automatic text greeting from his workplace, his HMO or his credit-card company.
People wrote diaries, not blogs. A diary that was written in a little notebook − with mental concentration and a fountain pen − accrues nostalgic value the more its paper turns yellow or gives off a stronger, musty scent of the past. Blogs, like an e-book, have no smell. Even the manuscripts of authors these days have no smell, because the manuscript of a novel, in our day, is an MS Word document. The few remaining local writers who still write by hand (Aharon Appelfeld, Amos Oz, Yoel Hoffmann) will be the last ones to leave behind concrete mementos and drafts that commemorate the creative process.
What is happening to materials is also happening to professions: Professions that may elicit longings are gradually disappearing. Anyone who is truly nostalgic for the carpenter, the upholsterer, the shoemaker, the tailor, the watchmaker and the rest of these dying crafts is mourning not only the death of handiwork. He is also mourning the loss of the personal touch and connection between artisan and customer, the loss of the personal “stamp” that distinguished products, and the death of deeply-rooted traditions that were handed down from father to son until IKEA and Made in China washed it all away.
It is unlikely that 30 years from now poignant nostalgia of this kind will tug at the heartstrings of those who recollect, perchance, the various players in the ephemeral business culture during the start-up era: the organizational consultant, the strategic consultant, the customer preservation coordinator, the risk analyst, the PR person, the account executive, the referent, the stylist, the meetings coordinator, the campaign manager, the vice president of branding, the foreign desk manager at an investment house, the copywriter, the promoter, the applications developer, the customer service and technical support representative, the placement consultant, the director of trade marketing by tele-meeting, and the director of pyramid marketing.
Furthermore, what is happening to professions is happening to hobbies. Anyone who is painfully nostalgic for the chess and bridge he once knew how to play, for the stamps, the shells and the coins he collected, for the clarinet or fishing rod he put away in storage long ago, or for the boat that he built out of 5,000 matchsticks − anyone like this is actually mourning the death of leisure itself.
We had a hidden treasure of leisure, as Zelda once wrote. When there was leisure, there was a culture of leisure. Donkey’s years − no, light-years − have gone by since songwriter Dani Minster wrote about people as sitting and talking under the mulberry tree in the village, “reading an old-smelling book, closing their eyes and keeping silent.” And since Ayin Hillel (the pen name of author Hillel Omer) described how meanwhile, in the city, “on the balcony at Kassoker’s they play till poker’s early light.”
Who’s got leisure-time today, aside from retirees and tycoons’ wives? Who else can afford to nurture a hobby after work? After all, in an era of high tech and outsourcing, the workday ends in the evening, and when the director of pyramid marketing arrives home, he grabs something from the fridge and collapses in front of the LED screen.
In the days when there was such a thing, leisure, author and songwriter Haim Hefer envisioned the following scene: “A day will come when you will sit in front of the fireplace, and your back too will be hunched over like a hump, and then you will remember your days in the Palmach, and you will tell about them while smoking a pipe. And all around, and all around, the children will sit,” and so forth.
The family gathers in front of the fireplace, the tribal campfire. The tribe elder, the chief with the pipe, regales his grandchildren with stories about the old days, and the grandchildren listen. Those were the days. And today? The family gathers in front of the television, Grandpa talks, no one lowers the volume on the TV − and the grandkids are preoccupied with their mobiles, this one sending a text message and that one updating her status on Facebook.
And thus they vanish: the objects that may be missed, the professions that may be missed, and the modes of entertainment that may be missed. Soon there will be nothing left to miss, and humanity will lose at this stage in its evolution the sentiment of nostalgia, just as it previously lost the gills and the tail.