Technology & Nostalgia, Progress & Values

The other day I was surprised to hear my daughter singing Harry Chapin’s Dreams Go By, a song written by a guy who died about a dozen years before my daughter was born. Then I remembered that her mom put a bunch of our old CDs on my daughter’s iPod. We talked about the song a bit. Is it supposed to be sad? Happy? Background — it’s a couple picking up their grandkids while remembering all the dreams they let go by in their happy [I think] and productive lives.

Then we listened to more Harry Chapin, and I got to thinking about how values change across the generations. Chapin isn’t my generation either — the first I heard of him was being with my parents when they heard of his tragic death.

So I was thinking about some of his songs and how they reflect changing values:

  • Cats in the Cradle: His best known song, still speaks to me, the most eloquent anthem to man’s need to be a complete father, despite his instincts to just be a provider. [Altough as my wife points out, the song is inaccurate. He complains at the end that his boy is just like him, which is untrue. One of the reason the son can’t visit his father is because he’s taking care of his sick son, so the son is a more involved father].
  • Flowers are Red: Probably my favorite (not including silly songs like “Stop Singing These Sad Songs.”) A great anthem to creativity and non-conformity.
  • Babysitter: When this song came on over the iPod speakers, I asked to move past it. The song is about the babysitter that made him a man. I guess he considered this free love to be another example of natural overcoming of artificial conservative restraints to be our true unrestricted selves. Today I think we’d call this molestation, or statutory rape.

Some passing thoughts:

  • Technology can increase the generation gap, but it can also help bridge them
  • The “progressive” values from 60s folk singers had some parts that the subsequent generations find powerful, and others that the subsequent generations find repulsive.
  • Our best thoughts come when we recognize that the nature of life includes much tension and conflict, joy and sacrifice, celebration and compromise. The conflicts are natural, and our job is to deal with them happily and productively. Thoughts based on the mistaken idea that life is simple and we just need to let it flow can be dangerous, even bad.