The internet is engaged in one of its periodic paroxysms of nostalgia. This time it’s HMV shutting down, and everyone is reminiscing sadly about how they bought their first CD (Pearl Jam’s Vs., HMV Cornmarket Street, Oxford, 1994, since you ask) or stood in the headphone booth after school listening to Tupac, or met a cute member of the opposite sex in the World Music aisle. Everyone, it seems, misses His Master’s Voice, misses the racks of Pamela Anderson posters and Metallica T-shirts in shrinkwrap packaging, misses browsing through ROCK AND POP F-H looking for The Spaghetti Incident?
But they obviously don’t miss it that much, or they’d have gone there, and bought stuff. Instead we download it from iTunes or stream it on Spotify. Because it’s easier, and cheaper, and there’s more choice.
I get a bit tired of all of this. Every so often a bookshop closes, and we all pine for the good old days of leatherbound books standing in serried ranks on the oak shelves of a local store, all watched by the kindly eye of an avuncular, knowledgeable owner who would point you in the direction of a first edition of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. But somehow, we all go to Amazon and buy our books there (or download them on a Kindle), because we might miss Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe but we don’t miss it enough to actually go to it.
And we all wiped a tiny tear from the corner of our eyes when Ceefax was finally put out of its misery, even though none of us had gone to Page 314 for the Premier League results in over a decade, because the internet did it better.
To an extent I think (on the basis of no evidence, I admit) that faux nostalgia is particularly bad among my generation. We, the 30-ish, are the last ones who lived much of our lives in the pre-internet days. More importantly, we’ve got nothing else to be nostalgic about except cultural signifiers, because that and technology are the only things that have really changed in our lives. As I wrote in the Ceefax piece, that’s why we get all misty-eyed about children’s television (everyone, surely, has had the “Remember ‘Cities of Gold’?” conversation).
But it isn’t only my generation, even if we are the worst for it. If people really loved their local butchers, they’d pay the extra price. But they don’t: they prefer the value and convenience of the out-of-town superstores they decry even as they push their trollies along the aisles. People miss old-school travel agents who talk you through the options, even as they book their holidays through Booking.com or TripAdvisor because it’s cheaper and easier. And we all really, really miss the whole HMV experience, except that we prefer to buy our music online and have LoveFilm send us our DVDs because frankly it’s a thousand times more convenient and, really, who wants to brave the centre of town on a Saturday just to pick up a Paolo Nutini CD? HMV has gone the way of the village blacksmith, and so be it.
By all means mourn its passing, if you like. But be aware that it died because it was useless in the modern economy, that no one cared enough to actually go to it, that there are things that do the same job better, and despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth you will have forgotten in a week because you’ll have got hold of Dredd on Netflix.