What will we lose when nothing is lost?

What will we lose when nothing is lost?

I guess you could call it “lostalgia”.

No, not missing the Lost TV show (although that use of the term does exist).

I mean a recollection of something you can’t get any more…sometimes something that you may have trouble proving ever existed.

I had that for years for a particular TV show, Norman Corwin Presents, which aired once in the USA back in the early 1970s.

That was a show I enjoyed! It was an anthology series with a sardonic sense of humor, starring what are now Baby Boomer TV icons: Fred “Herman Munster” Gwynne; William “Captain Kirk” Shatner; Michael “Miguelito Loveless” Dunn; David “Ilya Kuryakin” McCallum; and more. They were well written, fantasy/science fiction oriented comments on society.

It didn’t help that I remembered it as “Roger Corman Presents”. 😉 I even wrote to Roger Corman at one point asking about it. Norman Corwin was a well-known radio writer, and I’m sure I didn’t think it was by Roger Corman at the time I watched it.

I would ask people about it, and no one else remembered it (and this was just prior to home video recording).

Eventually, I did find the proof…and there are audio recordings of some of the episodes online.

This concept of lost popular culture applies even more strongly to books.

There were many, many threads in the

Kindle Forum (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

where people would describe a book they had read and couldn’t remember the title or the author, and they were hoping someone could help them identify it.

Oh, I have a short story like that!

It was a science fiction story, set in the future. SPOILER ALERT: it was still more efficient for humans to do some tasks than robots, like cleaning subway stations (they could better determine what might be valuable and what might be garbage). However, they found the work boring, and would be unhappy. The government offered people an operation which would reduce their IQs, but they could guarantee the person would be happy. Decades later, they realize that society has stagnated, that nothing much new is being invented. What they hadn’t realized is that the people who think their IQ is making them unhappy are the smartest people…so they were the ones opting for the operation. END SPOILER ALERT

I can get some sense of how resonant an article is that I flip into the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard by how many people flip it into their magazines from mine, and how many people like it. A recent

Atlas Obscura post by Sommer Mathis

got a lot of activity!

This wonderful site (full of real world wonder, so it’s a very apt word) asked their readers to tell them about “…the obscure books you read as a kid that have stuck with you, but that hardly anyone else seems to remember“.

The post that had the responses was fascinating! I really recommend it. Would these books be so interesting, though, if everybody remembered them?

I run into this phenomenon with what was once a prominent part of pop culture: Captain Kangaroo. On this TV show, the Captain would actually read “us” real books. Nothing fancy…just seeing the pages and hearing it read. This was a shared experience, and while this was only one feature of the show, it meant that kids across the country knew Ping and Mike Mulligan and the cap seller (and the monkeys).

books read aloud on Captain Kangaroo at Goodreads

It wouldn’t surprise me if not 1% of people under 25 recognize the name of Captain Kangaroo…the shows aren’t easily streamable.

There is an article by Bob Fischer in the current

Fortean Times

which I read in the Zinio app on my now discontinued Kindle Fire 3rd generation about an art movement called “hauntology” (they’ve adopted the term from another use), which has nostalgia for British 1970s (or so) kids’ TV, which could be quite creepy and…well, unnerving could be a good word. Fischer reasonably speculates that something like that feeling is less likely with today’s generation…because they will be able to continuously see and read and hear the pop culture of their childhood as they grow up.

It’s hard to imagine the Harry Potter books going out of print and disappearing from the public consciousness the way many popular children’s books of, say, the 1920s or 1950s have done.

Will we lose anything when everybody knows everything?

There is something special about connecting with somebody over something that most people don’t know. Many years ago, I remember someone bringing a friend up to me to sing the theme song from The Patty Duke Show (this was pre-YouTube). I remember somebody happily proclaiming that a sibling could recite the opening from Mr. Terrific. Now, anybody can simply Google those.

That said, much of my interest has been directed to items that are considered to be ephemera (even if their status may have changed over the years). I’ve always wanted everything preserved and made available (legally). I’ve digitized a couple of public domain books as part of my past work with a non-profit, and we put them online.

I think the preservation is more important than the community we get from being out of the mainstream.

I’m interested, though, in what you think. 🙂 Do you have books which you remember, but almost no one else does (for an interesting take on this, see the Dimension 404 episode Chronos)? Should everyone know the same pop culture? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

2 Responses to “What will we lose when nothing is lost?”

  1. Scott Calvin Says:

    The “Roger Corman Presents” phenomenon means that lostalgia is still alive and well. When we misremember something, a computer may have a very hard time finding it for us. But sometimes a person will still figure it out–and once that’s done, the internet can then give us the instant gratification of the thing we were having trouble remembering.

    A recently resolved example for me was not a book or TV show, but a quotation. I remember it as “we may be of different opinions at different times, but may we always be said to be on the side of truth.” I tried Googling it, and what I thought were the key subsets of it, “different opinions” + “different hours” + “truth”. That didn’t work. I thought I’d remembered where I’d seen it: the wall of quotations at the Science Industry and Business Library in Manhattan, but I found a list of those quotations online, and it wasn’t among them. My inability to find this quote bothered me for YEARS.

    And then I happened to mention it to my fiancée, who is a historian. She didn’t know the quote, but it took her about thirty seconds to find it. It’s from Emerson: “We are of different opinions at different hours, but we always may be said to be at heart on the side of truth.”

    My substitution of “times” for “hours” had made it impossible for me to find it via computer, and the resolution still satisfied that feeling of lostalgia!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Scott!

      Interesting! I think you might really enjoy

      Hemingway Didn’t Say That: The Truth Behind Familiar Quotations by Garson O’Toole (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

      which is available through Kindle Unlimited, and the associated website:


      They track down quotations, especially misattributions, and may have people (mis)quoting the same quotation several ways. In the book, they present a few hypotheses about different reasons it happens, and show examples. The equivalent in my case is assigning it to a more famous person, often similar sounding. I did run your quotation through it this morning the way you remembered it, and it didn’t find it.

      Another, similar phenomenon is “mondagreens”, where people mishear the lyrics of a song. I’ve found that sometimes I misremember the lyrics…not that I think I heard it wrong initially, but that it evolved in my memory over time. “Evolved” may be right…I’ve had more than one case where I think my version is better. 🙂

      For example, the 1967 Spider-Man TV series theme song…I remembered a lyric as, “In the cool of the night, in the heat of a crime.” It turned out that the correct version is, “In the chill of night, at the scene of a crime…” I like my contrasting version better. 🙂

      I think AI will resolve the search issues both you and I had. There are already applications where I can search for “sounds like”, and I would think an AI could figure out that “Roger Corman Presents” and “Norman Corwin Presents” would sound similar, and particularly if it had access to who they both were, guess that’s what I meant. Similarly, I’m guessing it could figure yours out, too…not right now, but in the near future.

      I still have an idea for an app that I think would work well, that leverages something that humans currently do better than software…just never been able to connect with a studio that would build it and market it. I could write it (the content, not the code) and take royalties…I’m not saying it would be a giant hit, but I think it would sell.

      However, AI may catch up before it ever gets made. 🙂

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