A look inside the millennial predisposition to nostalgia. Both the sweet and the bitter. The rhyming version is available here
I passed a shirt on display in a window at the mall. Across the chest with large bold capital letters, it read NOSTALGIA. Later that day, I wandered inside the Folsom Museum of Wonder and Delight. “You’ll love it.” assured the lady at the front desk. “It’s…nostalgia.”
But why do we love nostalgia so much?
We live in a culture of paradox in regards to time. Never missing a beat we jump (off cliffs even) at trends like Pokemon Go, or google express. But simultaneously, we ride a retro bandwagon, with a window that only looks back. Obsessed with the 90s, Jurassic park, and the infamous instagram throw back Thursday, we are a generation, nostalgic.
By nature, nostalgia–or a longing for the past– is bittersweet.
On the sweet side, we use our treasure box of memories to pleasantly reminisce, learn from mistakes, or share well-cherished stories. The wistful recall in itself is not problematic. However, the pursuit of the past, at the expense of the future, will keep us locked up.
Statistical articles reveal it is actually the young adult demographic that tops the charts for reported “feelings of nostalgia.” With social media, our childhoods have never been so documented or easily accessible. Like a lifeboat escape during the turbulent transitional waters, and clouded future horizons, the indulgence of nostalgia offers solace in the certainty of what has already happened. Similar to rereading a book with an expected happy ending, or listening to an old song with a predictable melody, the past, is addictively safe.
It start can start with a spark on a matchstick memory that captivates our attention. But it can progress into a desperate attempt at protecting the tiny flicker from the extinguishing breath of reality. In its bitter form, nostalgia is an imposter flaunting a hologram–always a hint out of reach– of something that once was, but not longer is.
The Memory Matrix
Bitter nostalgic longings whisper that the best has come and gone and that our only hope lies in the remake…That perhaps with a single song or a well calculated familiar event, we could clone the entire experience . Except the memory behind the throwback Thursday snapshot was made in a matrix, of emotions and interactions, that created millions of tiny different circumstances: The humidity’s effect on your hair, the precise medley of moods around the campfire, his ratio of cologne to axe on the date, the lingering burden of yesterday’s budget meeting, the voltage of the mental light bulb during the previous Sunday’s sermon, the manner in which the barista steeped your tea–it’s an impossibly complex and exquisite combination. The chapter we write tomorrow will never match the page of today. But isn’t that a freeing relief? That we can abandon the chase of what we already know as behind us?
Today the sun rose at 6:01am, and tomorrow it will rise at 6:02. In the constancy of change our earth keeps on spinning.