As the holiday season approaches, it’s hard not to acknowledge the fact that in the mid-2010s, nostalgia is king.
Particularly among younger generations, this obsession with nostalgia seems ridiculous and oversaturated, but at its core are some benefits to the idea of looking back at the past with rose-tinted glasses.
Before looking at those benefits, however, it seems appropriate to assess the gravity of this obsession for reminiscing.
Two pieces of analog technology in particular have risen from the grave in recent years that have inexplicably taken the world by storm.
First, vinyl records have migrated from the clutches of hole-in-the-wall collector’s shops to the shelves of Barnes & Noble, effectively returning to the public consciousness in a big way.
While arguments made about sound quality and the joys of having a physical product make vinyl the superior music-listening experience, these points seem subjective.
There’s validity to them in that way, and record players are often built with more technological advancements, but it’s hard to see why anyone would want to go back when a nearly infinite amount of songs are accessible on a device that not only fits in your consumers’ pockets, but can also search the entirety of the internet and call anyone around the world.
Another obsolete product that has made a comeback recently is the Polaroid camera. One would have been hard-pressed to find anyone advertising Polaroids past 2003, when OutKast vehemently argued for their relevance, but today they aren’t so hard to find.
Even if there is a certain appeal to the aesthetic of a Polaroid picture, is that really enough to explain why people might use them when there is a variety of high-quality digital and phone cameras on the market that can capture stunning imagery?
For those who say they use these older technologies because of a personal preference, because of their artistic merits or just use them at home, more power to you.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times released an op-ed in January by David Sax that makes a strong argument for the return of of old-fashioned technologies as not just nostalgia, but as potentially bringing back ideas that could improve an advancing, forgetful marketplace.
However, analog technology is just one facet of the concern and it isn’t the only place where older things are returning en masse.
It’s almost passé to joke about the fact that Hollywood has no new ideas, and while there are obviously new things being created, it’s easy to see why people would say otherwise. The third movie in the current wave of new “Star Wars” films is coming out on Thursday night, and just a cursory glance at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) shows upcoming TV series and movies based on Lost in Space, Rambo, Tremors and a variety of comic book adaptations.
This, of course, isn’t to say there is no place for revisiting older properties. Take something like Batman, which has had a dozen different adaptations since being popularized on television by Adam West in the 1960s, each of which approaches the subject from a different, interesting perspective to keep it from getting boring.
However, there’s an argument to be made that not everything has to be a remake or reimagining of an old product.
It can be frustrating to see all of these nostalgic ideas returning and oversaturating the market when it feels like the industry should be moving on to new things. Especially when they return in comical ways, like the “only ‘90s kids remember” memes.
However, there are benefits to thinking with nostalgia.
As Sax aptly said in his Los Angeles Times op-ed, “for the generation who has grown up with omnipresent digital technology, nostalgia isn’t just some foolish whim. It is a life raft, and the one sure means of grounding ourselves in a world that promises constant change.”
This thought is mirrored by Cal State Fullerton associate professor of psychology David Gerkens, Ph.D., who presented a study at the Western Psychological Association’s annual meeting in 2015 looking into how recalling positive memories on a consistent basis can lead to lower levels of depression and higher levels of happiness.
“It’s a good way for people to ground themselves with their past experiences, and use that support to deal with whatever it is they’re dealing with now,” Gerkens said. “It might seem like they’re in denial or zoning out, but really it’s accessing strength from the past and trying to connect with who you are as a person.”
His own study looked at 248 CSUF undergraduates over about four years, with each taking tests to determine their levels of depression, happiness, overall mood and personal feelings of control over events in their lives.
Gerkens found that reminiscing on positive events led to a small, but visible improvement in tests across the board, with those who kept on that daily activity longer showing better results over time.
“When I do this in class, I ask students what memory is for, and they’ll say it’s to remember things you’re going to get tested on, to remember your birthdays, all sorts of stuff like that,” Gerkens said. “Almost never does somebody say it provides a sense of self, but it really is a pretty key part of our sense of self.”
While the world could probably stand for a little less nostalgic recall, who’s to say there’s anything wrong with it when it makes people happier? After the tolling year that was 2017, everyone could probably use a little something to make them feel better.