Facebook:Nostalgia Machine

(Originally posted on my old blog, fcusick.blogspot.com , because I’m too lazy to write any new material today)
I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday. I’ve begun reminiscing events before they even occur. I’m reminiscing this right now. I can’t go to the bar because I’ve already looked back on it in my memory… and I didn’t have a good time.
-Kicking and Screaming

Americans are obsessed with the past. Let me qualify that statement. We’re not obsessed so much with history, but with cultural aspects of the extremely recent past. I’m hesitant to make such a sweeping generalization, but no matter where you look you can see some form of entertainment set, for no reasons other than nostalgia, ten to twenty years ago. Whether it’s 80’s day during school spirit week, some crappy VH1 show where third rate comedians discuss cultural relics from the years gone by, or a “Punk Goes 90’s” compilation CD, at times it seems like we want to move backwards in time, not forwards.

Those who point this out (and by “those” I mean the Chuck Klosterman article I read which talked about this) often point to a number of forums that illustrate this phenomenon. Whether it’s television shows like “The Wonder Years,” “Freaks and Geeks,” and “I Love the 80’s”-like shows, films such as Napoleon Dynamite, Donnie Darko, and The Wedding Singer, or new music that deliberately tries to sound like old music (The Killers, Shiny Toy Guns, etc.), this stuff plays on an imagined, supposedly shared vision that we’re all supposed to intrinsically identify with as part of our cultural heritage. It caters specifically to the apparent need people have to be nostalgic about the past. However, this kind of thing is marketed towards an impersonal, culture-specific past. A new phenomenon has sprung up that is doing something similar, yet operating on a far more personal level. In fact, it brings people’s own pasts right onto their computer screen on a daily basis.

compare with:

Facebook is a form of instant nostalgia that can be accessed at any time. It is essentially a journal that documents your development via wall posts, photos, and a shit-load of applications. It allows you to view your own past as it is happening. What’s more interesting, and creepier, is that anyone you happen to be friends with, or anyone within your network, has access to this information as well. Never before have we been able to reminisce so vividly about events that took place just a few hours ago. Not only that, but the constant stream of new photos, applications, and groups lets us experience nostalgia for our friends (or complete strangers) just as easily. It’s a fascinating, post-modern phenomenon.

I think that Facebook is one of the better innovations of the internet era. Its ability to connect people across the world is astounding. However, FB creates an unusual situation: it allows people who no longer have a “normal” or “traditional” relationship to have a quasi-real one that is ultimately unfullfilling for both parties.

Let me use an example to illustrate . It’s 1986. Boston native Bill decides to attend MIT. Freshmen year, he meets Amy from California. They fall in love at orientation and are inseparable thereafter. Until disaster strikes; Amy has been spending so much time with Bill that she’s failed three of her classes and kicked out of school. They are both crushed, as their relationship is effectively over unless one of them decides to pull some romantic comedy-esque shenanigans. During the next year, they exchange phone calls or send letters on an increasingly irregular basis. By the end of college, the two have, for all practical purposes, forgotten about each other.

Push the clock ahead twenty-three years. It’s 2009. The same situation occurs, yet something is drastically different in terms of their relationship post-Amy’s move. The advent of Facebook allows them to get a constant reminder of what they’ve lost. They regularly check each other’s pages, send each other messages, look at new pictures.

You might think that this situation is actually preferable to the original one. After all, these two people were so close at one point in their lives; it must be a positive that they now have an easy way to stay in touch. It could be argued, though, that Facebook is making things much worse. Unless Bill attempts some harebrained, Lloyd Dobbler-like move to California, their relationship is over. Sometimes, the best thing to do to get over someone is just to forget about them. I’m not suggesting that either one should pull an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind type procedure and literally erase all memory of each other. But in this kind of situation it’s very possible that Bill and Amy should, in the words of Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins, put the past away.

Facebook doesn’t allow for this though. When either Amy or Bill signs on it’s a virtual guarantee they’re checking out their former lover’s page. And this extends beyond the boyfriend/girlfriend paradigm. Say you used to be close with a group of people, but things fizzled out once college started. With Facebook, you can see your former best friends yucking it up without you on a daily basis. Or imagine an unrequited love interest from high school that you were friends with, but never had the balls to ask out. What about people who move to different states or countries? They are not allowed to forget about their prior life. Facebook is like the ghosts that visited Ebenezer Scrooge in a Christmas Carol, effortlessly taking us back to points in our life in an easy and often depressing way. It gives us a daily update of what we no longer have, or what we never had in the first place.


~ by fc13 on July 2, 2010.

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