Is it just New Year wishful thinking or has the gap between generations truly begun to narrow? I felt a seismic shift when my 17-year-old son told me what he planned to buy with his holiday gift money. "Vinyl records," he said.
Vinyl records? At first I thought he was kidding. I couldn't fathom why someone his age, having been raised on downloadable everything available at his fingertips 24/7, would be interested in LPs. Being middle aged and, in my son's mind, not very "cool," I obviously didn't get it. So I asked him to explain it to me. "Mom," he said, "music that sounds real, that you can see, feel, touch and hold in your hands is cool and, well, beautiful." Wow, did I hear that right? My memory of vinyl records was that they scratch, break, need to be stored and handled carefully. Besides, those albums, now collecting cobwebs in our basement, lacked the high-tech digital crispness that could be produced by devices like iPods and iPhones. But he was talking about something entirely different, about the sensuality of the LP experience -- how smooth they felt in his hands, placing the needle gently down, watching it catch the grove, the scratchy sound. It was that very "old-fashioned" experience that made these LPs appealing to my son.
I suppose this retro reaction shouldn't surprise me entirely, since it resonated with a trend I researched and wrote about here in a post called, "Real Is Really In." The focus of that piece was the welcome shift in the media back to natural-looking actors, away from plastic-looking ones who no longer looked real on screen. Talent agents had begun to discourage clients from overusing the very same cosmetic procedures once believed to enhance beauty, restore youth and secure roles. Actresses like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, women unwilling to erase the groves on their faces, were hot in Hollywood. "Homogeneity is out, real is in," agents said.
Maybe this is what my younger son meant about the authentic sound and feel of his LPs. It got me thinking about what other "aging" treasures once valued by our generation might end up being appreciated by the next. My 23-year-old daughter and her friends can't get enough of that new/old vintage look. They prowl second-hand stores, seeking out not only bargains but clothes that look like what we wore and likely discarded years ago. The holiday gift she craved was discovered in the back of my closet. Thrilled to find something she called "real" vintage -- a genuine item from the 70s -- she walked away with a pleated plaid skirt left over from my college days. A "true find," she said.
And while Kodachrome will become extinct as of 2011, I have noticed a revived interest in black-and-white photography. My middle son, age 21, asked for a camera with that option for his holiday gift. He specifically asked for one that also enabled manual focus, saying that point-and-shoot cameras didn't give him the freedom to create pictures that looked natural. Sepia, and black-and-white images, he said, had more texture and were more appealing to his eye. To support his argument, he showed me photos his girlfriend sent documenting her year in Bangladesh -- yes, most were in black and white. It made sense to me when he explained, "These feel raw, like you're really there. With color, they would look like postcards." Maybe it's my kids and their friends, but there it was over and over, an interest in a more authentic, retro experience.
And then there's the craze for green markets. Young people take time these days to carefully choose the fruits and vegetables they use to cook meals together. They handle each item to check for its freshness, just as their grandmothers did. Frugality may be part of it, but young people -- male and female -- seem to enjoy perusing these green markets just for the sensual pleasure of it all. And while these twenty-something men, unlike their grandfathers, actually help out in the kitchen, it is the return to basics that reminds me of yesteryear. Adding to this new/old pastime is the growing interest in fine, aged wine. Visits to vineyards and wineries have become popular among Millennials. They taste, sip and then select fine wine to go with their fresh food, replacing the cheap versions that no longer appeal to their palette. Clearly the whole going-green thing has become popular for lots of reasons, but it may be the most obvious statement of this next generation's need and desire to appreciate a less complicated, electrified, computerized life.
Back to those albums. Our kids may be enjoying their own rap and rock groups (some who even make LPs), but they are steeped in our music, as well. Blasting from their rooms are the Beatles, the Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Zeppelin, artists who not only changed music but culture. Viewing a 50- or 60-year-old parent as "cool" may be stretching it a bit, but it does makes me think that our sons and daughters may be ready to see us in a kinder light. Perhaps they are beginning to recognize that more is not necessarily better, quicker might be getting too quick and getting to the heart of what matters really does matter. Maybe, just maybe, this next generation is coming to appreciate that some things actually improve with age.
What treasures from the past do you think will be valued by the next generation?
Vivian Diller, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. A professional dancer before becoming a Wilhelmina model, Dr. Diller co-authored FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change (2010), a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances. For more information, please visit www.VivianDiller.com. And don't forget to fan me here, "friend" me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter.