In lieu of its upcoming movie release, I started reading “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen. I’m about halfway through it and I came across an interesting passage. The narrator is a 90- or 93-year-old man (he isn’t sure which) who is describing visits from his family.
“My platitudes don’t hold their interest and I can hardly blame them for that. My real stories are all out of date. So what if I can speak firsthand about the Spanish flu, the advent of the automobile, world wars, cold wars, guerilla wars, and Sputnik – that’s all ancient history now.”
What struck a chord for me was the fact that these and other events that happened mere decades ago do, in fact, seem like ancient history. Maybe it’s me, but I find it difficult to imagine the times of World War II or a time before the advent of the car. This translates to media technology as well – I also have difficulty picturing a world before television, phones and even the internet, though it emerged in my childhood.
As a society, we are intently focused on gathering as much information as possible about the present while constantly seeking the “future” – newer, faster and better methods and materials. In “Brave New World”, Huxley’s characters know little about history because it is banned by the government, but it also simply ceases to matter in their daily pursuit of happiness. I’m not saying that we choose to forget history, but is history becoming, as Huxley wrote, “bunk”? Are we only interested in learning the facts needed to pass history class and then moving on with our lives? I know I’ve forgotten much of the information I learned in school. Do historical events matter less and less to each subsequent generation? Is it all ancient history now?