Friday, November 20, 2009



On the radio last week, my daughter and I debated the nature and instantiation of touchstones.

A touchstone is a point of reference, a standard for judging other, unknown substances and circumstances.  Classically it was a slate tablet that could be scratched by unknown materials, leaving a characteristic, identifying line. In our usage, it was a referential experience.

For people who grew up in the 60’s, music has a powerful resonance.  Songs from that era can induce both feeling and purpose, it reminds people of the anthems that colored a cause and of the stirrings of first love.

In the 70’s, I think that the focus moved to movies (it was the age of disco, after all).  There are films that still draw me in when I see them on TV or in the video store.  back to the late-night conversations they inspired or the stolen kisses that they masked.

What cultural artifacts associate with that feeling today?

When a child of the ‘00s (and how strange that seems even to write it) grows up, what replayed medium will trigger their memory?  A video game? A rediscovered friend page?  A mass-market action picture?

My daughter wasn’t helpful: maybe you don’t know your treasures until you dig them up years later.

It also makes me wonder about the universality of generational touchstones;: do they hold across cultures as well?  A question, over beer, for my Dutch friends some time soon…


Anonymous said...

For me, growing up in the '70s and '80s, music certainly brings back a lot of memories for me, both of feelings and of people and places. I find it amusing sometimes to remember the teen angst and emotion that certain songs seemed to understand so well. Hearing them again now reminds me of who I was and who I've become.

patti said...

For me, also a child of the '70's, it's music. There was so much more going on than disco (Have you not heard the Eagles, man? Or Emerson, Lake and Palmer?) As for kids born in the '00? I don't know, my 5th graders were born in '99... but I think it will be video games.

Dave Hampton said...

THank you both, the perspectives brought back some good thoughts. ELP: of course!

I was in college in the 70's, program director at the campus radio station. Still, apart from the occasional concept album, my touchstones are all movies. There were classics and new releases on campus every weekend and they would provoke vigorous discussion in the pub afterward.

I didn't mention literature, which probably defined an even earlier generation, or TV shows, which might have defined a later, but, again, those seem to have lost their power in today's culture.