I recently finished reading Caitlin Flanagan's Girl Land. She has copped a fair amount of criticism for this book here and there, and I think one of the main problems with the book is its description as a history of girlhood. It is nowhere near comprehensive enough for that. It is a rumination on twentieth century girlhood among middle-class white girls, seen through the lens of Flanagan's own childhood.
This aspect of her writing is what some people hate, the riffing on her own life. But I think it's when she's at her best. She is able to describe acutely some of the experiences of young girls and women. Although she's not a fiction writer, I would rate her alongside Alice Munro for her ability to recount female life in a way that produces a shock of recognition.
Of course, the reason I feel such recognition is that I lived a similar childhood. Although I'm almost a generation younger than Flanagan, we shared the same world of girl-dom: reading Judy Blume novels, spending hours alone in our bedrooms listening to music and styling our hair (and agonising over our physical imperfections). Interestingly, dieting and body-hatred are not issues she really delves into in this book. I guess she came of age just before the anorexia epidemic, which was in full swing by the time I reached adolescence.
Flanagan offers advice for parents of girls, which mostly boils down to keeping them away from porn on the internet, and indeed keeping them away from the internet altogether so they can develop their own imaginations. Although I'm well out of girlhood, the advice to stay away from the internet because it rots your brain is probably good advice for me too. So pervasive has the web become, I actually have trouble imagining how I spent all those long summers and afternoons as I was growing up.
I think that I was part of the very last cohort (among privileged white girls) to have the type of girlhood that Flanagan describes. I didn't have an email address til I went to university. Had I been born just a couple of years later, I would have had a laptop in high school. I suspect, sad as it is, that the kind of childhood she describes is gone forever.
Nonetheless, technology has a way of giving and taking: both often in ways unexpected. A glance at past predictions of the future show how far off they turned out to be (how's that paperless office working out for you?).
I have been asked several times recently where I think the future of digital humanities is going. I found myself clawing the air for an answer. But if history teaches us anything, it is that we never really know what's going to happen. Whatever we may hope (or fear) something different again is likely to emerge as new players enter the field.
Much like growing up, where we fear and hope for adulthood, and nothing ever really comes out as we planned. I hope digital humanities manages to keep its imagination growing, and develop in ways none of us expect.