It turns out that personal nostalgia during a global pandemic Officially Is A Thing, or at least this is my takeaway from Abby Ohlheiser and Tanya Basu’s look at archivists trying to record how people are dealing.
The pandemic and the forced change in our behavior is also changing the way we interact with our personal social-media archives. During the pandemic, people are taking nostalgia-driven journeys into their own online histories, seeking comfort by looking at the way we were. Even this is becoming part of the story of how we lived online during a global crisis.
For example, a generation of young adults are flocking to Tumblr, which has seen a bump in traffic since people began socially isolating in mid-March, for nostalgic comfort and memories of their younger selves (this might explain the recent spike in searches on Tumblr for “emo hair”). Users are spending isolation reblogging old photographs, talking about malls, and sharing “cottagecore” images and other cozy content . (“Cottagecore” is an aesthetic that centers on an idealized version of living in the country. It’s where many people wish they were spending lockdown.)
As mentioned by Andrew Small in a recent Civic Signals newsletter , among my own throwbacks, for a time, was revisiting my first online community from the 90s—although I’ve since moved on, due to casual racist, abelist, and homophobic language and its toleration, because some people seem stuck in the bombast and posturing of the mid-90s internet.
Much of my own early-in-the-pandemic nostalgia has come in the form of revisiting old pop culture, whether rewatches of old favorite television shows or using the Apple Music subscription I’d gifted myself late last year to wander through old bands I used to listen to.
I should have known, really, that this sort of unexpected, and in many ways unbidden, psychological defense mechanism hardly would be unique to me. As I told Small, I suspect that in part it’s that looking into our past lives reminds us, by our very existence in the here and now, that those pasts had a future, and so, we hope, should our present lives, too.