Lately, it has seemingly become quite a bit easier for me to locate information on (or an actual source for!) practically anything I get nostalgic about, which is a very weird feeling. I have a fairly thorough and detailed long-term memory for things that have a particular aesthetic to them, and there were a number of books, movies, songs, albums, stories, and objects that I lost or misplaced (or simply failed to record or preserve when I had the opportunity) that existed to me only in my brain for a number of years, to the point where I started to wonder if I'd dreamed some of them.
Perhaps the most prominent example of this was a short-run series on Nickelodeon called The Third Eye. For years and years, I recalled snippets of very eerie music in my mind, images of weird slimy lump-shaped aliens sliding through tunnels under the earth, and a vague notion of a small, impish-looking statue. But I couldn't find any information on the actual shows for years.
Then came the Internet, and message boards, and forums, and perhaps most importantly, search engines. By typing in weird words like "Grinnygog", I was able to reach information that both corroborated and filled in some of the gaps in my rememberances. I was fairly shocked when I found out how long ago the shows had actually aired -- judging from the dates I uncovered, I must have watched such shows when I was between the ages of maybe 3 and 7. And none of them had been released on video or DVD in the USA, so while I at least knew I hadn't dreamed them, I still didn't have any way to re-watch them. I've since found snippets here and there on Youtube and other online sources, and it has been a decidedly bizarre experience to see even small parts of media I'd thought was "lost".
Hopefully I don't sound like I'm over-romanticizing the Internet here or anything -- I'm well aware that most people in the world still don't have flushing toilets, let alone Net access. But there is something very affecting in the realization that I've been able to find pieces of things to confirm and refresh ancient, strange childhood memories as a result of a diffuse but highly-networked peer-to-peer community of individuals (determined to preserve and share their memories of the same things I'd thought were long forgotten).
Some people remember images and melodies and titles the way I did, others remember dates, others have access to old television schedules, and the very, very lucky ones might have crumbling old VHS tapes. In a different sort of world, perhaps these stories would truly have been lost, but in this world, it seems that enough people managed to hold their memories safely until the right sort of platform emerged through which to share and integrate them.
Applied this way, the Internet is a kind of collective scrapbook, and in that sense, there's a kind of beauty to it. Some people seem to view "technological development" as something that (justifiably, if you ask some folks) simply bulldozes the artifacts of the past, chopping them up into the raw stuff from which new things are sure to emerge. But it doesn't have to be looked at that way. I see innovation as additive and enriching, not as a "cleansing flame" set to wash the surface of the Earth anew for the shimmering sterility of crystal spires and togas.
Moving into a realm slightly shinier and more commercial than "pure" nostalgia-mining, I just purchased an MP3 album from Amazon for the first time: Queen II. I was completely obsessed with Queen in junior high and this was one of my absolute favorite albums of theirs...I was less enamored with the 80s stuff where they started getting all dance-y, but their 70s material was most excellently weird and dramatic and flouncy and technically interesting.
Queen II is especially interesting because a lot of the songs have a kind of fairy-tale-like theme in a tone/mindset that reminds me vaguely of the aesthetic of "Labyrinth" for some reason (which doesn't mean it sounds like David Bowie -- it doesn't, really, it's more like the music reminds me of the visual atmosphere of the movie). I remember listening to it in 7th and 8th grade and feeling like I'd discovered a kind of lost, dark, glittery treasure. There was always something about the early Queen albums that made me feel, at least as a kid, like I was listening in on something I perhaps wasn't supposed to hear -- like the soundtrack to someone else's dream, or the looking-glass version of a pop album from some parallel dimension that only intersects with ours every once in a while.
There are a number of songs on this album (like White Queen (As It Began) and (The Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke) that I've never heard played on the radio. In fact, I think the only song I've ever heard on the radio from this album is Seven Seas of Rhye, which is a pretty odd tune but which somehow ended up on at least one Greatest Hits albums.
I actually still have the cassette tape of Queen II, which means I also have the insert/liner notes, which is why I figured I would just purchase and download the MP3s. The MP3s, happily, seem to be "regular" MP3s that I can copy and transfer between different folders -- within a few minutes of clicking the "order" button, I had the whole album on my hard drive, on my iPod, and on the media server in my living room. Neat!
And now I'm sitting here with headphones on, grinning like a rather silly person and feeling weird little chills running up and down my spine as I recognize bits and pieces and threads of harmony and guitar and funny jingling noises that haven't entered my ears in close to a decade (I've not had a reliable cassette player in a while, and the tape itself was missing for several years).
As a child I did entertain plenty of daydreams involving jet packs, warp drive, and silver jumpsuits, mostly because those were the motifs of the pictures of "the future" I was given by my culture, but as I've gotten older, it has become clear to me that things are changing in a far less predictable and more organic-seeming manner than I imagined they would initially. I never imagined that I would be able to just think of an album I hadn't heard in a while, punch its specifications up on the screen, electronically transfer funds, and have the music flowing into my ears within the space of a few minutes.
In short: those who scour the world for minute trials in grand and desperate attempts to prove the existence of "magic" or paranormal ability are surely missing out on the real magic that is waking up in the world through the mechanisms of the almost-invisibly mundane.
I am not saying that "machines are going to save us all" and I am quite viscerally aware that only a tiny percentage of the world's population is currently privy to the "magic" of practically being able to wish any known object, verse, or song into their laps or ears almost instantaneously. And I do feel somewhat uneasy taking such delight in making the "magic" analogy when I don't know where the parts of my computer were made, or under what conditions.
But one of the things that actually gives me hope for the future is that in some respects, and in some contexts, at least some people are seeing how the old and the new can coexist uniquely and vibrantly. The new is not consuming or destroying the old, but maintaining a sense of the preciousness of things (even "frivolous"-seeming things like weird British childrens' TV shows), and seeking to bring them into the future in such a way that more people can enjoy them. I like to think that this odd, infrequently-discussed subset of communication and information-sharing is a poetic microcosm of a particular approach to progress I quite favor -- and that is the approach in which it is recognized that the future has room for practically anything one can imagine, regardless of age.