Nostalgia By: Kamaria Kaalund

We have a date with the future, but what's our relationship with the past?

Top left: Time-Zero OneStep Polaroid (handed-down to me by my Grandmother), 1974; Top right: Cord phone in Computer Lab, circa 1980s; Bottom left: Cord-phones in Clapp, circa 1980s; JEN SX-1000 Synthetone, circa 1980s

"The Good Ol' Days"

Whenever I ask my mom about her childhood, I know I will not get a sweet and short response. We may start off the conversation on a very specific subject--for instance, her high school graduation--and an hour later end up talking about the time she went night surfing with some friends in Southern California where she grew up. That's because, as humans, we are obsessed with nostalgia. We are obsessed with recounting memories and sharing them with others. Memories are more than just, "things that happened in the past". They have cultural value. They give us clues about our history: as humans, as members of society, and as members of our own families. Before there was Facebook, and Instagram, and Snapchat to document all aspects of our mundane lives there was just the brilliant human capacity to remember. It makes sense that some of the most devastating mental illnesses include Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, where memory progressively declines. When your ability to recall your past is compromised, what does that mean for your own self-identity? How can you know who you are if you do not know who you were? That is why we are so deeply affected by memory; it tells us who we are. As a result we get nostalgic for the past.

So when my mother rambles on about surfing in Southern California, or her times doing field work in Costa Rica--I let her talk. It is nice for her to recount these blissful times in her life, and I learn a lot about the woman who raised me--before she was "the woman who raised me".

Mom's high school senior portrait, 1976

WHY DO WE CRAVE "OLD MEDIUMS?"

“I love the book. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the compactness of it, the shape, the size. I love the feel of paper. The sound it makes when I turn a page. I love the beauty of print on paper, the patterns, the shapes, the fonts. I am astonished by the versatility and practicality of The Book. It is so simple. It is so fit for its purpose. It may give me mere content, but no e-reader will ever give me that sort of added pleasure.”

― Susan Hill, Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home

“...Something we once loved, and love now, in the shape of a book. Maybe eBooks are going to take over, one day, but not until those whizzkids in Silicon Valley invent a way to bend the corners, fold the spine, yellow the pages, add a coffee ring or two and allow the plastic tablet to fall open at a favorite page.”

― Russell T. Davies, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Not everyone is a critic of e-books, however. Younger generations may actually find comfort in these digital readers:

WE CRAVE OLD MEDIUMS BECAUSE WE CRAVE EXPERIENCE

One year for Christmas I got my very own combination CD-player and radio. I remember being so excited to play my new [insert the name of some crappy bubble-gum pop artist that I liked back in middle school] album. This was probably seven or so years ago--when I was eleven. I remember having to make sure I wiped the dust off the disc before clicking it into the disc reader. I remember turning this big grey knob to adjust the volume and pressing on different plastic buttons to either skip, play, pause, or rewind a song. You also had to really like an artist's whole album because you did not buy songs individually. All that was there was the one album in the disc reader and if you wanted to listen to something else you had to take the disc out and put a different one in. Listening to the radio was its own ordeal. I would shuffle around my room finding the place where the signal was the strongest. Then I had to adjust the antenna just the right way and turn the knob to just the right degree if I wanted to catch my favorite station. There was so much tactile stimulation involved in listening to music.

I imagine those who grew up with record players look at music consumption nowadays with similar sentiments.

With iTunes and streaming sites I can have as much music as I want at my fingertips--literally my fingertips. I am not confined to listening to one album at a time, I can shuffle through thousands of different artists and musicians within an hour. I can access my music through a phone, a computer, or an iPad. My options are nearly endless, but it also makes listening to music overwhelming. There is so much content out there that often times I do not even know where to start.

Left: The exact model of my old CD player; Right: My Spotify account

A similar argument can be made about television versus show-streaming sites such as Netflix and Hulu. Even with the plethora of television stations, you are often limited in what you can watch because different shows have different airing times. Your favorite show on television might not come on until next Wednesday. But if that show is on Netflix you can binge watch an entire season in one night. With these new mediums, we are able to access things instantly and incessantly.

Does this mean increased access results in decreased value?

"I think so. I think to some degree we all realize this, and that is why we cling on to the things of the past" --Silvie Coheleach, Wellesley '20

THE STATIC PAST

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

The thing about the past is that we do not remember it in all of its truth. Good memories are etched into our brains--untainted but hazy. Time stretches, morphs, freezes, and fades memories. We remember good moments and good times in their purest form. These memories are untethered to reality, and untethered to context. For example, I remember watching the sunrise on my road-trip to Wellesley from North Carolina, two days before Orientation. The highway was quiet and the air outside was fresh. The morning ambience was soothing. We drifted smoothly down the silent highway that ran along side the Shenandoah Valley. I remember scrambling for my phone to take a picture of the mesmerizing sky. By taking the photo I captured that moment in time and all of its beauty. Looking at this photo makes me remember how excited I was to get to Massachusetts, how eager I was for college, and how this beautiful sky seemed like a promising sign that what awaited me in Massachusetts was something magical. However, because this was the image I chose to capture, all other realities of that moment fall quietly to the wayside. The fact that I have the picture as an artifact of that moment, solidifies it even harder into my mind. What I do not think about when I reflect back to that moment of the car ride was how exhausted I was. Or how I was practically starving because we had not eaten breakfast yet. Or that I could not find a comfortable way to fall asleep against the cold car door. But when I think back to that car ride, the image of the sunrise is the first thing I remember.

SO WHAT DO TIME, NOSTALGIA, AND DIGITAL MEDIUMS HAVE TO DO WITH EACHOTHER?

We cherish memories because we are so deeply connected to our pasts. They tell us a lot about our personal geographies. That is why we love nostalgic things. Even as we readily embrace new technology we often look back and long for the "things of the past." Old mediums carry the weight and toll of time. For example a polaroid from an old album has some sort of inherent value that a digital photo lacks. The former is a singularity; it is unique in the fact that it is the only one like it to exist. The latter is imminently replaceable; it can be saved, copied, and edited.

However our relationship with the past does not cancel out our attraction to technology and the digital world. In fact, digital mediums allow us to remember an influx of information about the past. We are able to document even the tiniest details of our lives without, for instance, running out of film.

"The digital camera is a great invention because it allows us to reminisce. Instantly."

--Demetri Martin

There is not much difference between the new and the old. The "past" that we get nostalgic for, is not really the past that we experienced. It is a static recollection of one good moment or thing. Similarly a digital photo is never really a true representation of a specific memory. It is not grounded in context. We use our social media accounts to curate the way other people view us. For example, the life that you would prescribe to a person by just scrolling through the photos on their Instagram account might be completely different from the life they actually lead. The digital world can be deceiving just like our nostalgic remembrances.

"Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days." --Doug Larson
Top left: Synthesizer app for IOS and Android devices; Top right: Digital Camera from Clapp Library LTC; Bottom: iPhone 6s

technology is a product of time and nostalgia is a remnant of it

Credits:

Created with images by k8?x - "tunnel" • cloud2013 - "Mary Jo's Bookcase" • michael pollak - "kindles" • CapCase - "Durabrand CD-1095" • Unsplash - "typewriter book notebook" • StartupStockPhotos - "startup start-up notebooks" • obpia30 - "clock time stand by" • FirmBee - "mobile phone iphone" • k8?x - "tunnel"

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