The Technology of Nostalgia

Recently I wrote a whimsical, almost-political rant about change and our aversion to it. Today I refute all my arguments and present to you a people who love change. We chase it, we desire to own it, and with money, we can – I’m talking about our relationship with technology.

The appeal of technology is akin to the seasonal hype that surrounds fashion. Designs and functions are delightfully sprightly and sensitive to our needs (or so we like to think). They are fresh and invigorating when our own lives are dull and tired. Progress and technological genius is rebirth, and stagnancy is death. Through our mobile phones and gadgets, we can see real change.

Even the food we consume is deliberately new and fashionable: from processed snacks like Easy Mac and packeted TimTams to real, modified food like deep fried chips, deep fried anything. It’s like a ‘fuck you’ to the traditional staples of fruit and veg, and it tastes awesome.

At a time in history when information technology development promises a shining future of endless invention and improvement, some people might say that form has begun to take precedence over function. I would argue that having achieved function quite well already, developers have turned to form, to achieve perfection of design. However, this is not to the extent that the product cannot be added on or revised – a concept neatly encapsulated by the term ‘planned obsolescence’. Perfection implies an end point, a finished product that fades to uselessness in the eyes of innovators. Capitalism has no place for perfection – it requires the endless churning out of new products to create the changing demands of consumers. Quite simply, the ideal of simplicity has been replaced by the ideal of the multifunctional. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.

But technology is just another addition in an economic and political system that is by definition unstable, characterised by periodical elections and the bust and boom cycle. We are in continual flux and our material possessions are no different. Daily existence produces much to discard: newspapers, wrappers, lunchboxes, cups, memos, train tickets, cigarettes, batteries, face wipes, take-out chopsticks. The more we have, the more we throw away. Even objects that are not necessarily time-sensitive must be seasonally replaced, like iPhones, cars and laptops.

Facebook is a weird anomaly. Every change they’ve ever made has been met with annoyance if not pure outrage. Having taken a piece of the virtual interface into our personal identities, change that comes from an external source is inevitably a test of the human nature of resistance. But change inevitably wins. Zuckerberg reminds us that the introduction of the Newsfeed (which didn’t exist in the first chapter of Facebook) got everyone riled up, but today it’s where users spend 90 percent of their time.

Perhaps it’s to do with the link between technological change and nostalgia. It shouldn’t confuse anyone if I make a reference to the Nokia phone – everyone’s beloved, outdated wireless mobile device. I contend that everyone’s obsession with the Nokia is in equal parts genuine appreciation and nostalgia. The Nokia phone is a symbol of childhood and the hazy excitement of the technological change in the nineties, bottled in a brick. It harks back to an earlier, irreplaceable era of our lives – not just irreplaceable, but gleefully exclusive. Inaccessible to those born after 2000, the Nokia can never be appreciated by oblivious, tweenage iPhone owners today. Perhaps we desire to carve out an identity for our generation that is meaningful and unique. The Saturday cartoons of childhood, and later a metropolitan culture and education, the privilege of choice – this is our place in history. It belongs to us. We may not have need for the wartime tropes of heroism, sacrifice and servitude, or the activism of rampant political upheaval in the sixties, but we exist here, now, and our priority of choice is quite clearly pleasure. Profit is but a well-tested strategy.

I feel that the culture of technology is a drug. It blunts the edge of the robotic efficiency of our system and the inefficiency of human workers; it is the fruit of our progress since the days of Adam and Eve that unlike the forbidden apple, is most definitely meant for consumption. Technology is a narcotic designed to treat modernity; a painkiller for the diagnosis of historical irrelevance.

Perhaps we are always behind, always catching up in a shifting era. We have commissioned the engineers of the future to build us a bright new era, but when we go to inhabit it we always find ourselves having trouble adjusting. Perhaps we are becoming more like the elderly person we see seated next to the girl with the iPad, a world of difference in knitted sweaters and battery life; anachronistic; out of place.

No matter how great our love for Snake 2, the truth is that we still want the new and the exciting more than the stable – like natural selection, the fashion mantra of technology is Adapt or Die. So buy the iPhone 5. The iPad mini. The Samsung Galaxy SIII, if that’s your preference. Buy it all. One day the children reading the history books will wonder what we contributed to the walk of mankind. And we will have something to give them to oggle at in museums. We will have created the technology touchstone. It was us.

Tagged , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: