It came to my attention not too long ago that social media was changing who I was, distorting my personality and altering the nucleus of my values. It has been discussed in detail how social media places a focus on trivial validation and lavishes trivial accomplishments and tasks with unearned praise. However, this is not the danger that I’m writing about. These problems are well-documented, if not well dealt with. But the reliance on nostalgia that certain social media platforms like Snapchat and Facebook induce upon their users is much more subtle. In my opinion, it is much more dangerous.
Two weeks ago, I was scrolling through Facebook, the holy land of cat pictures and stale memes that your mom and friends’ parents are just now discovering. I was directed to a vacation of mine from three years ago. The next day, a field trip I attended four years ago popped up. The day after, on Snapchat, a birthday party I went to last year hit me. These memories resurface daily, even up to the time I wrote this article. I suspect that it will continue indefinitely now that I am aware of the phenomenon. I realized that my attention was being diverted from the distractions of today with the distractions of years past, which is like forgetting to take out the trash from this week because the trash from last week smells bad. I understand that I am more or less lampooning nostalgia, which I believe there is good reason for, but that does not mean that reminiscing is inherently destructive. In moderation, looking back on the good times can lead you to greener pastures and reflecting on your past failures can be a strong preventative measure against future blunders. Cough syrup is great in moderation, but if you ingest too much of that stuff, you’ll die.
Nostalgia in the form of social media memories is dangerous because the social media platforms are designed to make participants feel as if they are doing something of value, even when they are usually doing nothing of the sort. Social interaction from behind an iPhone screen is already painfully diluted, and yet these apps take this a step further and remove the interpersonal aspect by simply forcing a person to communicate with themselves from a year or two or three years ago. The worst part is that we fall for it. The focus shifts, and in a lot of cases we allow ourselves to be enveloped by the funny costume we wore two Halloweens ago or the wonderful partner we spent Thanksgiving with last year who won’t be at the table this time around. Instead of moving forward and allotting our precious mental capital toward our goals, our dreams, even our immediate needs, we instead dwell on old stories or chapters in our lives that are long since resolved.
The other danger of social media in this case is the obvious addiction it is associated with. It is not a well-kept secret that social media operates like the online version of cheap crack that you can download from the App Store, and the incorporation of nostalgia into their platforms has mutated into an addictive substance. This phenomenon is not surprising, but it is extremely dangerous as all of the negative effects of focusing on the past begin to take a stronger hold over a person’s life the more time that nostalgia eats out of their day. At this point in the process, Snapchat memories date back about three years and Facebook much longer. It is becoming the case for many people, including myself, that every single day a new flood of nostalgia from a different period of life comes rolling in. It is like an unconquerable hurricane that grows the longer it exists.
Now, as mentioned, I do feel like there is a place in life for looking back as long as it can be achieved in a healthy way. The key is not letting your memories inhibit your action, and because of this, I think the way Instagram and Twitter are organized seems to be a better format. On these platforms, as opposed to Facebook and Snapchat, your memories are there when you wish to see them and aren’t annually force-fed to you like a fruitcake that your weird aunt made “with love” on Thanksgiving. As the holiday season now takes hold and the amount of posts to look back on begins to rise with our weights, it is important to remember to be responsible with your nostalgia for your own sake, even if Snapchat or Facebook would have it differently.
Kyle Cunningham is a UF English and history freshman. His column appears on Fridays.