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Matthew Bailey Headshot

Nostalgia Is Dumb and BIG

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I recently uncovered a bunch of old pictures. Being a dependably average product of the 21st century, they were quickly uploaded to Facebook. Over the last few days these pictures have triggered erratic and strange feelings inside my tummy -- what they commonly refer to as nostalgia.

Sociologist Robert Nisbet called nostalgia "the rust of memory" and I am inclined to agree. Over the next 571 words I will tell you why.

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Nostalgia was first identified in a 1688 dissertation as a medical condition describing the symptoms of Swiss mercenaries. In English-speaking western culture (obviously, the best) it is often characterized as the "good old days," or more specifically here in the USofA it is associated with "Americana."

Wikipedia, the preeminent and most academic source in the world, describes the psychological and even biological purpose of nostalgia as such:

Reliving past memories may provide comfort and contribute to mental health. One notable recent medical study has looked at the physiological affects thinking about past 'good' memories can have. They found that thinking about the past 'fondly' actually increased perceptions of physical warmth.

Did I really like High School as much as my recent feelings have led me to believe? Clearly the 150+ comments on my high school picture mean these feelings aren't subjective. Sure, my existence then was simpler, but do we yearn for ease? I know with certainty that my life now is a lot more interesting than it was then. Rationality tells me one thing and my emotions say another.

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The human tendency for nostalgia is probably some kind of evolutionary affect to provide unworked for security. Nostalgia is a more powerful force on humanity than is currently recognized. One could (and I do) blame nostalgia for the continued prevalence of religion in many parts of society.

Nostalgia was big trope in our most recent presidential election. 1950s white guy Romney lost to multi-racial, multicultural urban guy Obama. The shock and awe of the political right was personally amusing and perfectly exemplifying of how nostalgia can veil our collective memory in a bad way. The 1950s was clearly shit for everyone who wasn't a white guy.

Perhaps my nostalgia is more pronounced because of the 3,945 miles between my past and present. My subconscious would surely agree. When I'm temperate enough to have (or recall) my dreams they are almost always situated in England. In a recent old school paper letter correspondence with my Irish grandmother, I disclosed this oddness. She's the immigrant I know best and confirmed that even after 60 years in London; she still endures this nostalgia blemish.

"The rust of memory" is really the perfect way to describe nostalgia. While, admittedly, it can be pleasant to have some whimsical understanding of the past, I would ultimately argue that nostalgia is a negative that causes people sorrow in their present (regardless of whether this sorrow is justifiable). I don't want to sound all Rick Grimes, but it really is useless to not look forward and keep looking back.

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Before social media, High School reunions were a rite of passage... Yeah, the popular kids have shit lives and the losers are now cool, blah blah, but social media has kind of rendered these events unnecessary. People inclined to make themselves feel superior (20 something years later) can do it now through the Facebooks and Twitters.

The digitization and uploading of my old pictures triggered an appeal for a High School reunion. I will probably go to said reunion, but certainly not for the boring reasons mentioned above. Enlarging my already too inflated self-esteem would not be prudent. My only real interest in attending a High School reunion is far more basic and morose: I'd love to get super fucked up with these people who were born in the same town at the same time as me one last time, before we start dying out.