Nostalgia: It Ain’t What It Used To Be

record playerHere’s the thing about me: I am really, really nostalgic, and one of the effects of this has always been that hearing songs from my past has a profound impact on me. I can often be whisked back to my youth in a moment and recall things that I haven’t thought about in years, just from the opening bars of an erstwhile forgotten tune.

But the internet is ruining it all. . . .

You see, back before the days of filesharing and high-speed downloading, the only way I’d hear a song like “Lips Like Sugar” or “Lovecats” was if KROQ were doing one of those ’80s Lunch Hours or something. I’d be driving around and one of those songs would come on the radio, and I would be instantly transported back to grade school or junior high, remembering old friends, old smells, old sights, old feelings.

But now that virtually all songs ever recorded are available to me instantly, not just through (out-dated) downloading but via Spotify, I have actually heard “Lips Like Sugar” and “Lovecats” more times in the last five years than I had in all the years since they were originally released.

Due to the ease of media consumption, we have lost both the ability to feel nostalgia and whimsy over past memories since they’re no longer rare or surprising, but we’ve also lost the collective sense of experiencing events together at a particular moment. Sure, our parents may remember where they were when they first saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, but other than sporting events, I never watch live TV (and even sporting events I usually DVR and watch later). Time has become flattened, or better stated, our timelines have become less linear and more pointed, like a line that is looked at head-on rather than from one side. And in addition to this, we have lost the social component that comes from experiencing events together, even if “together” means watching an event on television at the same time everyone else is watching it. Last time I experienced that was September 11, 2001. And that totally  sucked.

Look, I use technology (although perhaps not to the degree that many do), so this is not some doomsday prophecy or jeremiad against popular culture and our consumption of media. I just think we need to stop and ask, before unhesitatingly embracing some new technology to which we will become addicted in nine minutes, whether such tech dignifies and humanizes us, or whether it serves to turn us into mindless and mouthbreathing idiots whose thoughts can’t extend beyond 140 characters.

Or something, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just sad that I’m not as nostalgic as I used to be back in the good old days.


  1. ChristianJanuary 28, 2014

    I can fully relate to this post. Here’s the thing though. That nostalgia you speak of, nostalgia brought on by a song, that was a short-lived phenomenon in the annals of human history (a segment of the 20th century really) that was created by technology itself. Same with everyone experiencing an event at the same time on the television or radio. It doesn’t make it any less special to those of us who lived in the 20th century, but I don’t think it really has anything to do with our humanity, or loss thereof.

  2. Andrew BuckinghamJanuary 28, 2014

    Eccl. 7:10:

    Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this

    Sent from my HTC One™ X, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

    Yo. 🙂

  3. JasonJanuary 28, 2014

    Christian: Maybe there was some earlier version, before pop music and radio, of the same phenomenon of experiencing something that hearkened you back to days gone by? One that didn’t involve technology, I mean. Regardless, I do think our modern experiencing of cultural events alone, when we decide to hit Play on our DVRs, is dehumanizing. In fact, someone I know just posted this on Facebook: It doesn’t surprise me in the least.

    Andrew: I remember right where I was when I first read that passage. It was the best day ever. . . .

  4. Andrew BuckinghamJanuary 28, 2014

    Jason, did you ever know, that you’re my hero?

  5. Andrew BuckinghamJanuary 28, 2014

    Whoops, left this off on accident:


    Always diggin’ your blog, J. Peace.

  6. ZrimJanuary 28, 2014

    I’m also painfully nostalgic and agree on the dehumanizing that certain technology brings. Nothing quite beats when “In a Big Country” is actually played on the radio, and I hate nothin gmore than tuning in just in time to catch the last few seconds of a classic.

    But what is it about GenXers that makes us so nostalgic? And what is it with the friend culture?

    ps I just looked up “In a Big Country” on the webbernet. Sorry to aid the dehumanization:

  7. Samuel EsperanzaJanuary 29, 2014

    “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” Marcel Proust

    “Can if be all so simple then. Or has time re-written every line. If we had the chance to do it all again. Tell me would we? Could we?” The Way We Were by Barbra Streisand

    Interesting commentary that technology can actually dehumanize us. I think that technology has actually done the opposite. Because of its dehumanizing component, it has actually caused us to search, seek, run after nostalgia. Like all things on earth, we have to face what technology can and cannot deliver.

  8. ChristianJanuary 29, 2014

    Maybe people in our generation or close to it are the only people that will experience nostalgia in the way that we do. Is that possible? Before the 20th century, they didn’t have radio to bring back memories through a song, and now every song is available from pretty much anywhere at any time of the day, so maybe that helps explain why Gen X-ers are so nostalgiac. Maybe?

  9. Samuel EsperanzaJanuary 29, 2014

    Christian, if you get a chance there was a good article written by Time Magazine on Gen X-ers which mirrors your ‘maybe’ comment.

  10. ZrimJanuary 30, 2014

    Speaking of TIME and attention spans, the most recent cover story was on the Mindfulness movement. It sounds like the latest self-help. Maybe it’s not, I don’t know, I lost interest right before the end of the article.

    But while they may not have had e-technology before the 20thC, they had nostalgia. And I have to believe they had nostalgia fiends like us as well. It just didn’t mark them as a generation the way it seems to us. My other, greater vehicle for nostalgia is smell. And every once in a great while an older woman will pass by and she’s wearing my kindergarten teacher’s perfume. I’ve wrestled with whether to stop one some time and ask what the name of it is. But on top of risking arrest or a slap, I’m afraid I’ll camp out at the perfume counter whenever I have to return something for my wife at the mall in order to bask in the nostalgia, thereby ruining those providential moments. I have so far resisted. However, there is a woman with whom I work who wears the scent of my first and only female obsession from college. I broke down and finally asked her the name, since I never knew what it was. I have been pleased with myself for not seeking it out though. Then again, I smell it regularly in the office, so…

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