Have you ever felt nostalgic for the future or ever published anything like #nostalgia, #nostalgic under a picture that has just been taken and directly posted on the Web? If your answer is NO you might still be interested in knowing what nostalgia and ‘new’ communication technologies have in common(?).
It sometimes happens to anticipate our not-yet-memories of holidays or other events and to know in advance that we will miss the moments we are currently experiencing. A kind of instant nostalgia that is expressed and experienced in the present by incusing shapes of the past (and the) future.
Nostalgia comes and goes as other feelings do. Historically close to melancholia, and often related to Sehnsucht, saudade or homesickness (its original meaning), nostalgia is located between remembrance and forgetting, idealization and creativity, it is a recollection of times and places that are no more, no longer accessible or perhaps never were. Nostalgia can also refer to a desire for a return to a past time that has never been experienced by the yearning person or the missing regret for a past that never was, but that could have been, or for a future that never will be. Thus, the nostalgic feeling is not merely geared to a return to a past location or time, but also encompasses other temporalities such as the present and the future and it is often related to social, or political utopian imaginations. Nostalgia is powerful and it has, most of all, to be labelled ‘nostalgias’ with a ‘s’, underpinning the plurality of its forms, expressions and meanings.
Nostalgia has been explored as a medical disease, as an amnesia trigger or as a bittersweet feeling and creative or even curative practice. The understanding of nostalgia cannot be adequate without considering the communicative practices it undergoes and the numerous links this feeling keeps with media texts and technologies. The recent accumulation and the increased availability of images, texts and sounds from the past are one of the reasons that can amplify and trigger different types of nostalgias. Are media medicines for nostalgia? A feeling recognized and expressed in Homer’s Odyssey, the coining of the medical neologism “nostalgia” to mean homesickness first appeared in a medical thesis written by Johannes Hofer in 1688 in Switzerland and made reference to a recurring sickness in the army. The Greek etymology of the concept thus comes from nostos (to return home) and algia (longing = yearning/Sehnsucht). The sick was cured when they went home, were visited by members of their family or listened to music or stories that evoked images and memories of the homeland. Yet in the seventeenth century, the force of narratives, images and sounds acting as medi(a)cines made it possible to alleviate the symptoms of nostalgia, transporting it to another space/time, which still holds true today.
Media texts can also be at the origin of the nostalgic feeling all by functioning as a cure; being nostalgic can help to feel less lonely. People are able to self-‘medi(a)cate’ their personal nostalgia, to nostalgize when they wish to do so; in making family films or photography, for example, or to participate in the activities of online communities. Nostalgia for media technologies and devices, often labeled technostalgia, is also not new and roots far in history. We often reject the idea that digital objects are sensorial agents, that they are at the same level or have the same symbolic value as objects we can physically touch. And yet the nostalgic feeling can also be expressed for objects that have never been present to us in their analogue form. They are “digital icons” that transport us to a social space and time in the past, shared with friends or family. It is, therefore “our” personal or institutional history that is bound to this “digital” object. In other words, it is rituals and stories that turn these digital objects into agents. An old video game or animated GIF can, therefore, have the same nostalgic potential as a car from the 20s or a VHS cassette.
What nostalgia does is that it allows us to be joyful and creative and it is also an individual and collective way of relieving the pain of space, time and personal loss. It makes it possible to confront the irreversibility of time, our finiteness, and nostalgia lets humans (re-)connect with each other. And this is precisely where the danger of its political (Make nostalgia great again) and commercial abuse lies; nostalgia as a profound feeling of loss and sometimes joy is vulnerable and exploitable.