Progress – why?

E.M. Ward, The South Sea Bubble (1846), a Hoga...
E.M. Ward, The South Sea Bubble (1846), a Hogarthian subject in the Tate Gallery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The recent purchase of Instagram by Facebook amused me, not least the idea that a company valued at 100 times’ earnings feels it can spend $1 billion on another company that makes no money at all. Basic economics obviously don’t trouble people’s consciousness any more now than they did in the South Sea bubble.

The other reason why it seems strange is that the company’s product is a method of making new photos look old and elegantly faded, so that they are reminiscent of the funny colours on all those polaroids of kids playing in paddling pools, blowing out candles, smiling on a bike. We spend all our childhood wanting to grow up, and all the rest of our lives wanting to recapture the aimlessness of childhood. Failing that, we’re quite pleased with photos that can instantly take us back to the technology of the 1970s and 1980s we remember.

The draw of the past seems to get stronger the more our lives progress away from simple pleasures. We acquire lots of possessions and responsibilities, and live in an annoying bubble of self-imposed pressure to keep pushing boundaries, to keep “winning”, getting promoted, buying a house, getting married, having oodles of kids and still being really groomed, cooking wonderful nutritious meals and raising the offspring to be productive and successful themselves.

Nostalgia and fake photos are little reminders of the world we imagined as children, when we still looked forward to adventures which didn’t, mysteriously, involve paying bills, ironing or working in offices.

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