Nostaliga as a force seems to grow more powerful with every passing year. It has always existed. I remember the Stray Cats aping Elvis Presley while we ate at 50’s diners growing up. But it seems like ripping off the past has sped up recently. Vanity Fair pointed the trend out in fashion. The author of a book called Retromania made the same argument for music. Mark Harris at Entertainment Weekly lamented that sequels and remakes are almost all studios make now (9 of the top 10 films last year qualified as one or the other). Unless they become Super Bowl commercials instead. And even gaming is jumping in as Halo and other games get a reboot.
What’s weird is that the Internet is getting left out of this trend.
In fact, they seem to be headed in the opposite direction – inexorably marching forward at any cost. We’re constantly prodded to switch to new designs and formats. Think about the almost annual announcements from Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail that each company has created a new version that is bolder and better. “Feel free to try it now!” the messages chirpily announce while warning that if you don’t’ switch now, you will be forced to do so eventually. Users inevitably yearn for the old format but those yearnings go unheard.
This focus on new, new, new has always been the province of technology and has clearly led to an incredible amount of innovation. However, it feels like there is a lost opportunity here to also use this engine of progress to fulfill the desire for reliving good times. I’m not talking about just compiling an 80’s music playlist on Spotify or watching old TV cartoons on YouTube. Collecting artifacts is certainly part of it. But the real art in nostalgia seems to be in reinterpreting the past or giving it new context in the face of modern times. There are a growing list of examples:
+ Facebook’s new timeline format lets all those intent on wallowing in their high school years do so more easily
+ Timehop helps you remember where you were one year ago based on your Foursquare checkins.
+ Memolane lets you scroll backwards easily through your social media life.
+ Fantastic Tumblr blogs like Mapstalgia that focus on memories of the past.
But there is surely more to be done. If we’re successfully starting businesses that sell packages of vintage candy and the AC/DC retrospective boxset come inside a working amp, then the internet’s ability to tap into this phenomena is clearly still falling short. People either want to relive times now far gone or explore for the first time trends from before they were born. A note to Silicon Valley and Alley: while hurling toward the future, don’t forget the powerful lure of the past.