Let Off Steam with Nostalgia

An enjoyable day trip to the Worth Valley Steam Railway last month prompts a look into why this type of consumption takes our fancy and what it tells us about our lives today.


It’s hard to believe that in days gone by transport by steam train would have been the means to get from A –B. But now in an age of slick electric trains, we long for the very experience, labelled vintage and consequently pay more for the novelty value.

Picture it now…The journey is steady, as you chug along, allowing the senses to take hold. Admiring the scenery (no 3G yet you see) and letting the steam remind you of the manpower and technology it takes to run like clockwork. The compartmentalised carriages encourage chatter, a far cry from the intent to avoid eye contact at all costs on a Virgin East Coast service. It all seems idyllic, tame if you will, as you conjure up the image of the Railway Children sitting on the bank unrestricted by fears of health and safety.
Of course to some it’s all about the steam train per se but otherwise perhaps the nostalgia of steam railways is down to a general reminiscence to a simpler time. Our ‘plugged in’ culture (Bull, 2005) allows the use of mobile devices to check emails and such like, travelling with us as we move through time and space.  Our sensual experience may decrease as our focus sits in our laps on a commute rather than taking in the pleasures of the journey itself as the main event.
Ironically, although we may be more connected (with digital interfaces) in the contemporary, we seem increasingly disconnected. The breakdown of local structures from continually changing social networks, jobs and homes characterises Liquid Modernity according to Bauman (2000). Nostalgia may help to escape this uncertainty and the hardships of the present by finding stability; sentimentality for a less transient time may facilitate temporary relief.
Does this argument ring true for you? What role does nostalgia play in your life? _______________________________________________________________________
Bauman, Z. (2000) Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bull, M. (2005) No Dead Air! The iPod and the Culture of Mobile Listening. Leisure Studies, 24 (4), pp 343 -355.

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