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Davis, California

Friday, June 14, 2024

Opinion: Present nostalgia

Moving through time is like walking backwards, viewing the past while the future flows over your shoulders. “Facing the future” is a misnomer –– just one of many things Robert Pirsig pointed out in his book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

Thoughts about the future come only from inferences we make about the past in front of us. The present? We cannot know the present moment until it goes past our ear. The past is almost everything.

If this all sounds ostentatious coming from an undergraduate communication major, I apologize. I took a philosophy course and I also wore a toga once. It got me thinking.

If there was ever a time to live completely in the past, this is it. Nostalgia is nothing new (ha!), but Generation Y’ers seem to revel more than ever in days gone by.

This must have something to do with our unreserved dependence on mechanized social networks like Facebook and Instagram.

While our parents had their college memories relegated to less immediate stimuli — print photos, a particular song, smell, taste — we can access most of our memories 24/7 with power and internet access.

Facebook provides the forum to revisit the past in myriad ways. Photos, videos, articles and cultural citations all arrive in chronological order. But they can be viewed in any order we want.

The hilarious video your friend sent you during finals, the party after finals, pictures of the girl you sent flirtatious text messages to but decided against getting to know better –– those are all just a few clicks away.

Today our memories live in a server farm in North Carolina or Virginia.

Notifications from a friend may come as he/she looks at an album from several years ago. The photo binging ensues from there. But we’re not just looking at photos or videos or whatever media form a post may take. We’re also looking at, and looking for, memories.

What’s more, our new digital domains are gathering places to call up analog aspects of the past. Just last year, Nick at Nite decided to bring back programming from the 1990s due to overwhelming support from fan pages on Facebook. Who loves orange soda? Kel loves orange soda.

Companies are basing a successful business model on nostalgia. They do a roaring trade.

The past is so cool that we now paste a veneer of old on pictures uploaded to Instagram. That idea was worth $1 billion to Facebook, who bought Instagram last year. That is what I call a budding nostalgia monopoly.

Another photo application, ShakeitPhoto, lets you take your iPhone and “shake it like a Polaroid picture,” quoth Andre 3000. Yes, retro Polaroids on your phone.

Vinyl records, fixie bikes, and 8-bit video games seem to have gained similar mystique with our generation. Things once pedestrian can take on a campy appeal, as Woody Allen shows in Midnight in Paris. Ironically, even Woody Allen may have a vintage sexiness for some people.

I do not condemn nostalgia outright. No doubt, summoning artifacts from the past can rouse the mind in the present, leading to brand-new experiences and ideas.

For example, I might ask how watching “Doug” and “Legends of the Hidden Temple” helped or hindered my development. The same goes for electing Capri Sun to be my lifeblood throughout elementary school.

Similarly, indulging in the movies, books and music of the ‘50s/’60s/’70s may forge a deeper connection with my parents and my parents’ parents.

I may not stop looking through endless streams of photos on Facebook, or forgo watching my favorite movie for the umpteenth time. I will act with the consciousness that spelunking in the past bears serious consequences on my state of mind in the present.

Walking backwards with all that in mind, I can enjoy myself with less guilt, and hopefully gain some insights that will help me at least think about turning around.

If you want to tell SEAN LENEHAN to get off Facebook, he can be reached at splenehan@ucdavis.edu.


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