Why lockdown has made us so nostalgic for the past
Back when the proverbial truly hit the fan in March last year, I had just made the (very poorly timed) relocation from Sydney to Melbourne. Mere weeks into setting up our home for a year-long stay, lockdown hit, and I was stuck in an unfamiliar city with no close friends or family, and all the while losing work at a landslide-like rate. Alone in a tiny apartment (my partner is a doctor so was pretty much operating on regular hours) and feeling the perennial Melbourne chill, I was lost, gloomy, and desperate for an escape from the grim reality of my situation. And so, to cope, I fell hard down a rabbit hole of nostalgia.
A child of the 80s and 90s, I eschewed new releases in favour of marathon rewatches of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed. I re-read dreadful (but oh so good) Point Horror novels, and listened to the likes of Alanis Morissette, The Cranberries, and Smashing Pumpkins, on repeat.
My time tunnel trip even extended to my plate. I found myself craving my mum’s Sunday lunch staple of apple crumble and custard, and I painstakingly sought out overpriced British ‘delicacies’ online. All of it evoking memories of simpler, bygone days.
Of days when I jostled with strangers in packed, sweaty pubs and dance floors, hugged friends with abandon, and pashed any cute boy that happened to cross my path.
“What breeds nostalgia in a period of lockdown is the way it encroaches on our experience of time,” says Dr Sara Oscar, visual communication lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney. “Stuck inside with restrictions to the way we experience life, we have three options. We can stay with the slowness of the present, we can look forwards with uncertainty towards an unknown future, or we can look back with nostalgia and long for past experiences.”
You’ve probably noticed the #photodump hashtag on your Insta feed: a carousel post featuring multiple, unrelated pictures — usually flashbacks and vintage photos — that go against the typical social media filtered and flashy grain.
“Stuck inside with restrictions to the way we experience life, we have three options. We can stay with the slowness of the present, we can look forwards with uncertainty towards an unknown future, or we can look back with nostalgia and long for past experiences.”
Dr Sara Oscar, visual communication lecturer, University of Technology Sydney
“[This] tendency is not a new behaviour, but it is perhaps becoming more common on social media because we are all in lockdown and sharing while we are social distancing, rather than in physical places,” says Oscar. “Social media tends to feed collective experience, and in turn collective experience tends to be visualised on social media platforms.”
While pre-pandemic we were encouraged to engage in a game of one-upmanship of idealised snapshots — each perfectly framed and filtered to within an inch of its life — the artifice and bragging has been replaced by a hankering for the past.
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