I’m not one to indulge in nostalgia, yet I’m intrigued by all those old pictures that keep popping up in my social media feeds. You know the ones — pre-digital photos that are stamp-dated by bouffant hairdos and bushy sideburns. Photos that, before they were uploaded and posted, tagged and shared, were stripped from a yellowing page of an ancient scrapbook.
These portraits — of middle-aged friends as kindergartners or of long-marrieds on their honeymoon — are invariably accompanied by the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday or #FlashbackFriday. Even the most serious-minded users of technology seem to have a soft spot for images that would’ve have made us blush in embarrassment under different circumstances.
Shifting into reverse appears to be quite the trend. In addition to #tbt and #fbf, we also now have the less popular but nonetheless worthy-of-note Sentimental Saturdays, Memory Lane Mondays, Take Me Back Tuesdays and Way Back Wednesdays. It seems we’re riding a worldwide wave of wistfulness.
I don’t get it. Old photos sometimes make me cringe with embarrassment and I’d rather not be seen in some of the fashions I once favored. There is, for example, a high school-era picture of me in lime-green bell bottoms and a matching plaid peplum top, an outfit that I used to think was the cat’s meow. Now it elicits a totally different reaction: What was I thinking?!
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The reflection that accompanies hindsight can be as unforgiving as a scorned lover. I often remind my daughter of this when she poses for pics wearing a particularly trendy getup that’s sure to look passé before her next hairdresser appointment.
True, some of the photos are poignant and precious, the kind that make one yearn for soda shops and saddle shoes, the kind that hint at simpler times and slower-paced schedules. They usually involve big bows or crinoline-puffed skirts. But not all nostalgia-infused images are of shellacked hair and vintage clothing. I’ve seen #ThrowbackThursdays of console TVs and #FlashbackFridays of hula hoops and typewriters.
And lest you think my generation, the self-absorbed baby boomers, have a lock on this sepia-toned yearning, let me tell you about the 16-year-old who posted an “old” snapshot of herself with a gleaming orthodontic appliance and the words Remember when…
Really? I thought. Really! The picture couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. I have … well, let’s just say that most everything in my closet pre-dates that photo.
Curious, I researched the genesis of this trending melancholy. Turns out the fad probably started in September 2011 and got a big bump when Kim Kardashian (who else?) posted a Throwback Thursday Instagram five months later, resulting in a spike in popularity. For better or worse, the rest is part of social media history.
The fact that cutting-edge technology enables us to delve into the past so deeply and so widely strikes me as ironic. Think about it: In the era of instantaneous communication and 24/7 news cycle, we are calmed by photos of vinyl LPs and polyester leisure suits, soothed by snapshots of our snaggletooth selves in Easter hats and patent leather Mary Janes.
But maybe that’s the point of all this, this desire to cherish the past even as we speed headlong into the future armed with computer chips and complex algorithms. The act of reminiscing, and the sharing of those reminisces, apparently provides us the ballast and the compass to move forward, forever forward.