Only a couple weeks ago, I wrote about why cloud storage is slowly leading us down a path where memories of our childhood are no longer reflected on, looking at the obsoletion of traditional film cameras and video recorders by smartphones as the main culprit.
Today, I’m about to get a little hypocritical because it’s time we all accept that nostalgia is dumb.
Now, to preface this article, I do want to clarify that I think nostalgia is nice in small doses. Getting whiffs of the old days can easily remind you of how times have changed, allowing for moments of either melancholic or placated reflection.
It’s this reflection that I think gives nostalgia its value because it’s a type of reflection that actually produces something other than spurious emotions. After all, as I’ll be discussing in a future article, not all reflection is made equal.
With this being said, nostalgic reflection suffers from recency bias like no other emotion does, and this is the root of my issue with it.
Even since elementary school, reflecting on the past has always been a common way to pass the time. Conversation would just circle around items like what media you enjoyed, what toys you played with and what family traditions you had.
One memory I remember is when seven-year-old me took one glance at the textbooks my older brothers had to use for classes and started to feel my stomach churn.
When I saw that they were then doing their homework on sheets of notebook paper instead of handouts with pictures, I started to gag.
Then, once my brother told me that I’d have to do that when I was their age, I practically vomited on the spot. Nothing was grosser than having to grow up.
This trend doesn’t discontinue into middle school or high school either. As the relative class difficulty compared to kindergarten grows wider and the usage rate of self-deprecating humor increases, reminiscing on the “good old days” becomes a go-to way to ease the mind.
Still, nostalgia is just a cheap drug that leaves you feeling warm for a little while until the melancholy hits and suddenly you think that your life is spiraling.
People look at their past as this idyllic blurb that constantly escapes them as words like recess and nap time turned into standardized testing and essays and then into taxes, insurance and rent. It’s a slow dissent into madness.
We dream of days when we had no responsibilities and no stress, and now it has become the defining attribute of the most recent generations.
It’s a common trend in most internet circles too. People yearn for the days when the originals came out and before the sequels and remakes ruined everything.
They create montages commemorating the mundanity of their childhood, putting it on this pedestal above their present situation.
But why does it have to be this way? I’d argue that growing up is actually kind of nice.
The people we were in our past were no soothsayers. We didn’t have the foresight nor the ability to stop and think about what awaited us in life. We just kind of went with the flow without a shroud of awareness about the world around us.
To some, this awareness is the root of the pain because ignorance is bliss. After all, the world seems like such a cruel place. Whether you watch the news or not, most of what you hear about is a tragedy of some kind.
Most things are framed in terms of the negatives and never the positives.
My classes? Difficult. The professor? Sucks, beyond comparison. This assignment? Stupidest thing I’ve ever done.
However, this ability to be aware of our lives, where we came from and where we want to go, is what makes growing up awesome.
When I contemplate my past, I don’t spend much time thinking about how much better life was. Instead, I recognize the constant flow of time.
I see the clips of me as a toddler with my eyes glued to the video recorder as I walk back and forth repeatedly because my mom laughed the first time I did it as a character-defining moment. In other words, ever since I was baby, I’ve always been one to keep the bit going for a tad too long.
When I see people sucked in by their nostalgia, they act like the people they are today and their circumstances of today are somehow completely disconnected to who they once were. It’s as if the fact that they can’t go back or obtain it again makes it this storybook reality apart from our own.
Fortunately, I have a message for such delusional people: you’re still living that storybook reality.
Fictional stories without progression are criticized, and the same should apply to us in the nonfiction world.
Analyzing the hero’s journey in literature, we take one look at the reluctant hero and roll our eyes. Their initial stubbornness is apparent and the tribulations they face are challenging, yet at the end of the journey, the catharsis is fulfilling.
Growing up is no different.
Yeah, taxes are difficult. I’d know, I’m an accounting major. But is it so bad that I would want to return to being that attention-seeking baby? Heck no.
In turn, when I reflect on my past, I see a version of life I don’t want to return to because it’s incomplete, derivative and unfulfilled. It’s the exposition of our stories, and while often conflict-free and low-stress, it isn’t very satisfying.
Hence, nostalgia is merely complacency in disguise, and I want none of it even if it means having to learn what a deductible is.
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