The Current Age of Nostalgia

| September 6, 2013 | 6 Comments

Facebook Timeline. #TransformationTuesday. #ThrowbackThursday. #FlashbackFriday. Vintage clothes. Remember the 90′s? Buzzfeed will make sure that you do.

The modern age is an age of nostalgia. Instagram trends tell us to look back three times a week. We have a heightened awareness of the self our profiles tell us we have become, and we only have to scroll down into previous years on our “timelines” to reflect on how we got there. Everything past – including some things once forgotten, and perhaps for good reason, by earlier generations – is saved online. Everything is accessible for a revisit, whether or not it merits one. Our nostalgia is constantly staring at us from various screens.

Of course, this is all about perception. The stories our various profiles tell about ourselves only include details that we voted to disclose publicly. And in Facebook’s case, the further back the moment in time, the more the votes of others matter. Facebook Timeline highlights the moments of our past that received the most likes and comments, effectively allowing what may become our most comprehensive life narratives to be a community effort of selective storytelling.

Full of nostalgia. | photo credit: Amir Kuckovic via photopin cc

Full of nostalgia. | photo credit: Amir Kuckovic via photopin cc

I don’t know how I feel about this.

Introspective reflection and recollection is a useful tool for discovering what builds you. When I get a chance to revisit one of my old, battered Moleskines I am often inspired to write by something I scrawled down and forgot about promptly after. Looking back can serve to solve problems and avoid them in the future. I think it is important to understand your personal narrative and turn it to face your future.

But I worry we’re looking over our shoulders too much. We’re not looking back to solve problems anymore. We’re looking to create a new image from old pieces. We’re curating our self-museums and trying to rearrange a tired display of who we hope to be. I’m afraid we’re getting lost in old photographs and songs. We are  constantly re-checking our public identities. Aren’t we too young to look back so much?

This summer I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, which was an incredible read. The narrator remembers the Biblical story of Lot’s wife, who was told not to turn back as her city, Sodom, was destroyed. He comments:

But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes. People aren’t supposed to look back.

So human. It’s true. And how natural it is to love being human. The human impulse is to hold onto what you know. But maybe he’s right. Maybe people aren’t supposed to look back. I want us all to try looking forward more often.

Tell me what you think.

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Category: Art and Literature, featured, Science and Technology

Cecilia Weddell

About the Author ()

Cecilia (or Ceci—not Cece, not Sassy) graduated from BU with Comparative Literature major and a Math minor in May 2015. She wrote for Culture Shock from 2011-2015 and was an Editor-in-Chief from 2013-2015. To keep up with her writing and other doings, follow her on Twitter @CCWeddell.

Comments (6)

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  1. juan marbán says:

    Parece que hay una condición bioquímica que tiene que ver con un gran periodo de tiempo de nuestras vidas (desde la niñez a los veintes), en el que la construcción y maduración de circuitos cerebrales logra su mejor rendimiento en nuestras vivencias,mismas que se quedan muy en primer plano de nuestra memoria.
    Recurrimos a ellas (parece ser) cuando no nos sentimos tan vitales,tan intensos. Y bienvenida la nostalgia,jaajaa.

  2. Luke says:

    Hey Ceci, nice post! I’ll have to disagree, and how much of my disagreement comes from my personal feelings and my general impression of this age, am not sure. It’s just hard to say whether we are any more nostalgic than before, or the previous generations. Growing older means becoming more nostalgic – just like the 90′s became a thing.
    I agree though that the defining difference is that it’s all there, digitized, waiting to be dug through. Is that so different from regular photographs we used to keep, physically? And again, all this could really just be through my personal spectrum because I don’t participate in #flashbackanything, so maybe that’s just me. Thanks for food for thought!

  3. Cecilia Weddell Cecilia Weddell says:

    Interesting points — so you guys think it’s a means of personal security to look back and remold the past?

    Do you all think that this is amped up because of social media? Am I just more in tune to it because I’m part of the generation that shares the most? (Tino, I see your point, and I guess my curiosity is whether or not we’re doing it more than other eras did, or the increased visibility will have a stagnating result on the future.)

  4. Mackenzie Morgan Mackenzie Morgan says:

    I think that there is definitely something to be said for recognizing your past and how it contributes to where you are in the present. However, I don’t think we should use it to escape from the present. I think that change and uncertainty can be really terrifying and because the present and the future are laced with those fears, the past serves almost as a blanket of comfort. Which can definitely be a problem. As for Instagram trends, I like to post baby pictures of myself because I personally think I was a pretty cute kid =P

  5. Tino Bratbo says:

    I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. Wasn’t this the entire point of “Midnight in Paris”? That no matter what era we live in, or what time of our life we’re in, we’re always looking back for better times. The creative era before us will always be more creative, and most people will fondly remember their younger years compared to their current ones.

    Is it natural? I don’t know. I think it’s mostly insecure. People aren’t secure or confident in molding the present creative movement, or their present lives for that matter.

  6. Evan Kuras says:

    I read this post as someone half-immersed in social media. I use only email, facebook, and twitter. And my use of the latter two are limited – I basically never post photos and I tweet once a month, if that. Yet I can see the Age of Nostalgia around me – perhaps it immerses me too.

    Readers of Culture Shock without facebooks: what does this post mean to you?

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