One of my favorite media experiences is listening to "Saturday Morning Flashback" on WXRT, my favorite radio station from Chicago. The show runs from 8-12 every Saturday and what they do is pick a specific year and play music exclusively from that year during the four-hour time slot. As it happens, as I write this the show is playing music from 1973, but it could be any year from 1965 through about 1996. You get a feel for what the music was like and they also add additional features about the news from the year, what movies were popular, etc. It's always entertaining.
But it's also deceptive, because the 1973 you get from WXRT isn't really what 1973 was like. If you look at the Billboard Top 100 for the year, you see some really wonderful songs and some really dire stuff, too. Some of the songs that are played were Top 40 hits, although you won't hear "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree" on the show, even though it was the #1 song of 1973. Of the top ten songs of the year, typically you might only hear #4 ("Let's Get it On"), #7 ("Crocodile Rock"), #8 ("Will It Go Round in Circles", with Billy Preston sporting a sweet Afro in the linked video) and maybe #9 ("You're So Vain") in a typical 1973 show. Meanwhile, you do hear some great songs like Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken," Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita," but most people sure didn't hear those songs in 1973. And you also hear some songs that were hits but most people have largely forgotten, like "Why Can't We Live Together" by Timmy Thomas (#75 on the charts) and "Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest (#36).
Sometimes I feel like we live in a Saturday Morning Flashback world. It's very easy now to get whatever music you want, whatever news you want and whatever experiences you choose. While I love being the editor of my own life, sometimes I wonder if my editorial decisions are blinding me to information and perspectives that would be useful to have. And I really wonder if we are missing things now that, 36 years on, will seem blindingly obvious. This has been a pretty momentous week - lots of things have happened in the financial markets and in Washington that will have very long-term consequences. Are we seeing things clearly right now?