What I am nostalgic about

With a group of friends I was having a chat about the merits of the current vs. past America.  Battle of the Ancients and Moderns!  I generally favor current times, but not unconditionally.  So I promised them a list of what I missed from the past.  To be clear, these are personal judgments, not claims about net social value.  I’ll also offer comments on features from the past that many miss, but I do not.  Here goes:

1. Visiting Borders in its heyday.  Nowadays I have to go to London to have comparable experiences.

2. That you could just show up at various venues, pay modest prices, and see incredible performers.  For instance I saw Horowitz and also McCartney at his peak.  Leo Kottke at his peak.  Pierre Boulez.  Many more.  Such experiences are hardly gone, but in terms of cultural resonance the earlier times were much better.  How did I fail to go see Miles Davis!?

Similarly, you could just go see Milton Friedman, Kenneth Arrow, Derek Parfit, and many other famous figures.  No current economist or philosopher is comparable in this regard.

2b. Note that in some areas, such as NBA basketball, there are more “must see” players today than in any earlier era.  Or say tech titans.  So I am not favoring the nostalgic perspective per se, but for music, economics, and philosophy the nostalgic perspective on live performance is correct.

3. There were more and better museum art exhibits to see before 9/11.  Much of that has to do with insurance rates and the ease of international agreements.

4. Good seafood was cheap and readily available.

5. Reading the Far Eastern Economic Review in its heyday.

6. Awaiting the arrival of a new issue of the Journal of Political Economy, knowing it would have exciting new ideas.

7. Many, many locations were better to travel to and visit.  Amsterdam is one obvious example.  But by no means is this true for all places, India for instance is better to visit today than before.

8. Hollywood movies used to be better, though global cinema overall is doing fine.

9. Very recently there are too many parts of the world you really just can’t visit, Iran and Russia most notably.

10. Mainstream media was much better, noting I nonetheless would rather have the internet.  Still, I miss the quality of cultural reviews, local news, and several other features of normal newspapers.

11. San Francisco of the 1980s and Miami Beach of the 1990s.

12. So many intellectuals could afford to live in New York City, and indeed Manhattan.  The city was overall more interesting, though worse to live in or to have to deal with.

13. Parking was much easier, even in Manhattan.  I used to just get parking spots, even in the Village or Midtown.  Now I would never bother to look.

14. The emphasis on personal freedom in American popular culture of the 1970s and 1980s.

15. Paperback editions of the classics were so often far superior in earlier times.  Nowadays most of them look and feel like crap.

A few things I have no nostalgia for:

1. I feel America today is overall a higher-trust society, admittedly with the picture being somewhat complex.  American cities certainly are much safer, and most of them look much better.

2. I prefer current airport procedures to those before 9/11.

3. Young people are overall smarter, and arguably more moral.

4. Just seeing white (and sometimes black) people everywhere, except a few cities on the coasts.

5. The seafood issue aside, food in America is obviously much much better.

6. I can’t think of anything in the category of “how people interacted with each other” that I preferred in earlier times.

7. I don’t miss having more snow, quite the contrary.

8. Medical and dental care are far superior, obviously.

What else should be on these lists?


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