Life May Be Simpler Now

The Goldbergs

Paul Waldman wrote a good one yesterday, The False Glow of Remembered Childhood. It’s about how everyone looks back to the days of their childhoods and says, “Those times were simpler!” But that isn’t true. As he notes, in a general sense the times were not simpler. They were simpler for you. Why? “Because you were a child!”

The core of the article is a quote from Adam Goldberg, the creator and producer of the new television series, The Goldbergs. When asked why he set the show in the 1980s, Goldberg said, “I think the ’80s works for a TV show because it’s the last time the world was simple. It was before the Internet really changed everything and made the world really small.” Mr. Goldberg, of course, was born in 1976.

What I think is really interesting about this is that I remember seeing an interview with Garry Marshall, the creator and producer of Happy Days. Toward the beginning of the series, he was asked the same thing, “Why did you set this show in the 1950s?” And his answer was the same: because it was a simpler time. He didn’t mention the internet, of course. He mentioned drugs. Mr. Marshall, of course, was born in 1934.

In addition to this aspect of all our personalities, we are also parochial from the standpoint of time. I was just discussing in comments the fact that the humor of long ago—like Rabelais and Cervantes and Shakespeare—is far harsher. So if you look at what humans have done over a time scale of hundreds of years, you see that we’ve actually become better. Punch and Judy have been replaced by Barney & Friends. I think this is excellent.

But life goes on. We still have to feed and clothe ourselves. And doing that by telecommuting Python code is no more complex than hand planting crops. In fact, I would say it is less complex. The complexity of the society tends to make our lives easier and simpler. Of course, when people like Bill O’Reilly claim that things were simpler at one time, what they mean is that there was more conformity. But there wasn’t. It’s just that they didn’t see it. And that’s because, as Waldman says, they were children. But it ever was so. People said the same things back in 1859:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

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