The Bible laments, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity," and it ominously adds, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
More contemporarily, Chuck Palahniuk bemoans in "Fight Club," "Everything's a copy of a copy of a copy."
The adage, "history repeats itself," seems to be an overused cliché, but we hardly give much thought to it.
After all, we are a generation that prides itself on our individuality and our uniqueness.
We obsess over diagnostic personality tests, curate our social media images and champion diversity and greater representation.
When I was reading about Anthony Patch's predicaments and internal torments in, "The Beautiful and Damned," (1922) I realized I could empathize with the protagonist.
I could really, really empathize, and I'm sure most F. Scott Fitzgerald fans concur.
Fitzgerald's observations of New York society then can still apply to my society today, and the frustrations that appeared distinct only to that time period seemingly persist a century later.
Yes, the world is changing at an unprecedented pace, and we have seen many paradigm shifts in popular culture.
Yet, could it be that perhaps, on a very intrinsic, humanistic level, the human condition has barely changed from decades, even centuries ago?
A few quotes I have come across in the past year might prove this point.
1. Looking back to a glorious past
"The generation which is now on the wane among us may have had its faults, but for my part I think it had certain qualities of hospitality, of humour, of humanity, which the new and very serious and hypereducated generation that is growing up around us seems to me to lack." -- James Joyce, "Dubliners" (1914)
Was this written in 1914 or 2014? We will always remember the previous generation, Gen X and before, fondly.
Maturing at a time just before the widespread proliferation of social media and online dating, these adults seem to put a premium on physical interactions and warmth.
Our generation has seen many changes.
We chronically complain about being underemployed, make a joke of social awkwardness, treat traveling around the world as an entitlement (not a privilege) and simultaneously complain about the shortcomings of Instagram, while obsessively uploading selfies.
Yet, it seems every generation, us in 2015 and the Irish in 1915, thinks of itself as the black sheep.
We will always be wilder than our predecessors, but modest in the eyes of our successors.
When we move up to be the bygone generation, when our glory days are relegated to the yesteryear, the people born in the mid- to late-2000s will have their piece to say about us.
The generation after us grew up surrounded by iPads and wireless connection, is raised by parents who can differentiate between the Paleo and Atkins diet and came to age at the time A-list celebrities get younger and younger. (Think: Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair," Romeo Beckham's ad for Burberry and Alexander Wang's fashionable niece).
Are you shuddering yet? So, the next generation will speak fondly of us, and our ways, the way we did for our predecessors, like how the dear folks in 1915 did for theirs.
2. An unchanging, persisting facet of city life
"The poet accused cities of fostering a family of life-destroying emotions: anxiety about our position in the social hierarchy, envy at the success of others, pride and a desire to shine in the eyes of strangers. "City dwellers had no perspective, he alleged, they were in thrall to what was spoken of in the street or at the dinner table. However well provided for, they had a relentless desire for new things, which they did not genuinely lack and on which their happiness did not depend. "And in this crowded, anxious sphere, it seemed harder than it did on an isolated homestead to begin sincere relationships with others. "‘One thought baffled my understanding,' wrote Wordsworth of his residence in London, ‘How men lived even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still strangers, and knowing not each other's names.'" -- Alain de Botton included this analysis in his book, "The Art of Travel," in 2003, with the focus of the paragraph centering on William Wordsworth, famed English poet.
What is interesting is that Wordsworth was born in 1770, and this piece, which can be found in the prelude, was most likely written in the early 1800s.
Feelings of estrangement in a city have been talked about and debated for centuries. Each major generation had new contexts and challenges to grapple with while living in a big city.
For our generation, the debate has evolved to how we can still feel lonely, despite the proliferation of social media apps that promise us instant quick fixes (friendship, romance) by obliterating geographical spaces.
Yet, in spite of new complexities and inventions, it seems like our debates pin down to an unchangeable fact: Humans are lonely.
It doesn't matter whether you're a subject in Edward Hopper's art pieces in the mid-1900s, a solo tourist in Tokyo in 2015 or a native Londoner in 1790.
The fact that city life exudes loneliness is a matter that many have attempted to find solutions for, but it is never-changing.
3. Our desire to stand out, but also to belong
"One just can’t tell whether he’s mocking the world or yearning to be accepted into its frivolous company; whether he is getting furious over some piddling little matter or holding himself aloof from worldly things." -- Natsume Sōseki, "I Am A Cat" (1906)
Internally, the world can never live up to our standards. Some of us get misanthropic at the worst of times, believing the world would be a far better place, only if people did this and that.
We have mixed reactions toward the same thing, depending on the context and our mood at the moment.
When all is right in the world, when we're excelling academically and socially, the world makes sense.
Yet, we have had that one day or two days where we are disillusioned about the trajectory of our lives, when days either seem fruitless or wasted.
Sometimes, we are proud of our social awkwardness and make self-deprecating jokes about it.
Some nights, we even congratulate ourselves for being comfortable with our loneliness and solitude.
Yet, on other nights, we tune into media channels where the so-called lesser people of the world – some of them our friends, the rest acquaintances – seem to be having a lot more fun than we do.
It's an internal paradox we all have to acknowledge and learn to reconcile with ourselves. Are we narcissistically perfect, or existentially insecure?
For the longest time, I've been fascinated with self-perception. Like Robert Greene said, "Most people believe themselves to be inwardly greater than they outwardly appear to the world."
I've come across and observed many individuals who prided themselves on their maturity and their so-called "old soul."
Maybe it's a characteristic of our generation, that we're aggressively trying to differentiate ourselves from the next guy holding the same college degree, or maybe it's a universal human desire to be more than just a speck in the timeline of the world's history.
But, how different are we, really, compared to the seven billion other people coexisting alongside us in this point in time? Much less to the generations of people who have lived before us?
So, the next time someone quotes Charles Bukowski's "My heart is a thousand years old. I am not like other people," two things will surface in my mind.
First, if that quote has 15,000 notes on Tumblr (barring other social media shares), are you really "not like other people?"
Secondly, as evidenced by the quotes from our wise ancestors, perhaps our hearts, ambitions and souls are truly 1,000 years old.
There is nothing poetic about it, simply because in 1,000 years from the first millennium, not much about humankind has actually changed.