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The New Nostalgia

So, I was faced with a wildly unflattering TimeHop photo on Facebook this week. Normally, this kind of social cruelty results in a quiet detag and a silent curse, but I’m actually quite enjoying these little blasts from the past at the moment

And so, seemingly, are large portions of my social media cohort.  We’re all currently locked in the throes of an extended nostalgia. Whether it’s Buzzfeed’s endless supply of kitsch, 90s-imbued listicles, the ever present Throwback Thursday on Instagram, or Buzzfeed’s references to Throwback Thursday on Instagram, nostalgia is back.

Nostalgia concerns a sentimentality or longing for times past. Your grandmother might yearn nostalgically for ‘the good old days’. So why are its symptoms increasingly manifest in younger generations? And why are the times we look back to often so recent?

There are – I believe – two main reasons for this, both linked to the instant gratification, always on, digital culture we live in.

One is about time, and our increasing inability to understand what’s going on around us because it’s moving so goddamned fast. (Douglas Rushkoff has written and spoken about this in his book Present Shock). This paralysis is prompting us to seek out simpler, more structured, past time periods, before our lives became mediated by a constant and overwhelming flow. In other words to nostalgise.

The other reason concerns identity. It’s been well documented that social media can create feelings of loneliness i.e. the sense that you may be the only person not at that party on Saturday. Yet, nostalgia freezes you in a moment trapped in time, more often than not, shared with others - conferring with it a sense of belonging and identity. It also acts as a mechanism for escaping reality, of suspending ourselves in a temporary isolation, which – perversely – makes us feel part of something. It can increase self-esteem, reduce stress and make us feel connected socially.

Like any powerful cultural force, nostalgia has been harnessed and exploited by brands for years. In many cases, taking the form of heritage advertising, such as this Hovis ad and this Virgin ad.

However, as the time lag between past and present becomes increasingly squeezed, brands looking to elicit an easy emotional response, may need to start looking closer to home. To mine the not too distant past (i.e. last year as opposed to last decade) for nostalgia-jacking success.