Saturday, April 21, 2012

Back to the future?

Nostalgia runs deep; into your life it will creep.  We know this.  But The New Yorker's Adam Gropnik calls attention "The Forty Year Itch," a mysterious 40-year nostalgia cycle.  AMC's Mad Men is hot because it takes viewers back about 40 years.  Why 40 years?  This is when most people take stock?

I suppose that there is an evolutionary psychology story out there somwhere.  Millions of years of natural selection favored those who looked back fondly.

Bob Mankoff posted these nostalgia cartoons.

I like how Gropnik closes.
And so, if we can hang on, it will be in the twenty-fifties that the manners and meanings of the Obama era will be truly revealed: only then will we know our own essence. A small, attentive child, in a stroller on some Brooklyn playground or Minneapolis street, is already recording the stray images and sounds of this era: Michelle’s upper arms, the baritone crooning sound of NPR, people sipping lattes (which a later decade will know as poison) at 10 A.M.—manners as strange and beautiful as smoking in restaurants and drinking Scotch at 3 P.M. seem to us. A series or a movie must already be simmering in her head, with its characters showing off their iPads and staring at their flat screens: absurdly antiquated and dated, they will seem, but so touching in their aspiration to the absolutely modern. Forty years from now, we’ll know, at last, how we looked and sounded and made love, and who we really were. It will be those stroller children’s return on our investment, and, also, of course, a revenge taken on their time

This brings me to a fun discussion with UCLA's Matt Kahn at today's USC Lusk Center Rena Sivitanidou Memorial Research Seminar.  (We honor Rena with an annual top-flight research seminar). Matt discussed the economic opportunities that China's bullet trains provide.  Bullet Trains (Matt argues) create "firm fragmentation" opportunities; a company's whole operation does not have to sit on the expensive real estate. 

But does not the internet offer the same opportunities?   How do we trade off in-person for on-line interactions?  We do not yet have the answer in 2012.  But what about in the 2050s?  Will we smile at thoughts of bullet trains and their possibilities, as entertained in the 2010s?  I think so.