Nostalgia: Where the Past Meets the Future

by Megan Whitfield

Some people crave the future, others crave the past. The times we handwrote letters to our loved ones, hand-sewed beautiful things, listened to vinyl on our record players. These experiences of nostalgia are rife amongst the youth of today, as we figure out our lives in the digital age. What does the past have to offer, and how is it shaping our future?

A craving for the, often idealised, comforts of the times and events that already happened, nostalgia is defined as a sentimental longing or wistfulness for the past. It’s an experience providing a lifeline to a number of hobbies we were sure had limited lifetimes, but were lost to their technological replacements.

For record collector and aspiring music journalist, Anthony Furci, listening to vinyl records provides “a whole different level [to the listening experience] compared to Spotify or CDs.” While he admits it’s a bit clichéd, Anthony can’t deny there’s an appeal in listening to music “like it was in the old days”.

Photo credit: Anthony Furci

“It’s so cool to be able to hold twelve songs in your hands. You know that if you take the needle and spin it at a certain speed, those songs will come out,” he says. Inspired to collect records, both by his friends and a long-held interest in music, Anthony says nostalgia certainly played a role, particularly once his collection began to grow. “Mum and Dad were kind of surprised at first, but they let me look through their collections – Duran Duran, that kind of stuff. It was also the knowledge that I was playing records that hadn’t been touched for almost 30 years.”

However, it’s not just about the old records. Despite streaming services popping up everywhere and CDs considered a largely outdated medium, assumedly-extinct vinyl records have experienced a resurgence. In January 2017, a report produced by Nielson’s, a global measurement and data company, indicated that vinyl LP sales were at an all-time high since 1991. Sales reached 13 million, and 2016 marked the ninth consecutive year that record sales have increased.

Current artists such as Sampha and Björk, are also releasing their new albums on vinyl alongside CDs, actively fueling this resurgence. Much to the pleasure of new record collectors, like Anthony. “Most of my collection is actually a lot of newer stuff, bands I really like who’ve brought out records, mixed in with older albums.”

Photo Credit: Hannah Cross

Record collecting isn’t the only ‘old-fashioned’ hobby re-emerging. For journalism student Simone West, 21, currently undertaking a study abroad semester, writing letters has become her method of choice for keeping in touch with her loved ones. “There’s something nice about receiving something tangible. I think it’s nicer [than messaging]; it feels like someone has gone the extra mile to think of you in that way,” she says.

While not an entirely new activity for her, having sent her friend’s letters when she was younger, a sense of nostalgia has influenced her this time around. “I wanted to bring a sense of nostalgia to my grandparents, because it’s what they used to do; there was none of this internet business. I think they’re the ones that appreciate it most. Last time I was in Europe, all they wanted was handwritten postcards.”

Though she recognizes it’s not for everyone, Simone feels she’s started to set a trend among her friends. “I think I’ve influenced some people [here on exchange to start writing],” she says. “They tend to be people already into poetry and writing though; it’s for a certain type of person. I journal daily, but I’m a journalist. I imagine it’s different for others. I think it should be a part of daily life though.”

The idea that someone has gone the extra step for you, creating a feeling of closeness, can also be enhanced through the experience of nostalgia.  Research by Southampton psychology professor, Dr. Tim Wildschut, found that nostalgia’s tendency to remind people of their connections to others can also help one to move forward with increased purpose and reduced fear. Through reminding people of the times they felt supported by loved ones, overcame hurdles and achieved goals, it’s been indicated that nostalgia can raise one’s self esteem. These memories help “maintain current feelings of self-worth and contribute to a brighter outlook on the future,” explains Dr. Wildschut. Individuals are better able to cope with current challenges and uncertainty, while fostering a connectedness between the past, present and near future.

University student Catherine Holmes, 21, experienced this connectedness to the past when she began teaching herself embroidery early this year. “Since [I started] I’ve found out that my great-grandmother used to work at Cuala Industries in Ireland, an arts embroidery workshop that played a role in the Irish Arts and Craft movement and Gaelic revival. I feel more of a connection to that now. I love hearing about it.”

Catherine isn’t alone in her embroidery endeavors. Recently, the skill regarded as traditional and old-fashioned, replaced by machinery and fast fashion, has had a modern facelift. “It’s been updated. A lot ofwhat drew me to embroidery is that many of the artists I follow on social media are quite political; they have a message. There’s a lot of feminist and queer art. One of my favourite things is seeing an embroidery hoop with gorgeous florals, with ‘fuck’ just sewn in the middle,” says Catherine.

Catherine Holmes

Over the past year, there has been a 53% rise in online searches for knitting patterns in the UK. Mintel, a global research and insights company, suggests a 12% rise in women undertaking some form of needlecraft as a hobby over the past two years. Social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest have provided new platforms for artists to share their work, prompting a re-emergence of embroidery among younger generations. Artists, such as Sarah K. Bennings and ‘Happy Cactus Designs’, are gaining followers in the hundreds of thousands. It’s also how Catherine got involved. “I started seeing it online, quite simple stuff like words on a t-shirt, lyrics. It was rough and messy, and looked achievable for me to make. I made it a New Year’s resolution and went to the craft store, and bought myself a ‘kid’s kit’. I also spent about two weeks practicing on a pillow case in bed. It’s a mess.”

For Catherine, this resurgence has allowed her to find the creative outlet she’s been looking for. “I really enjoy being able to create something. I’ve never been that artistic but I’ve always wanted to be. [Embroidery] is soothing too. I have a bit of social anxiety, but I can sit in the kitchen and work. I’ll be having a conversation but my brain is a little distracted; it takes the pressure off.”

Despite the uncertainty of the future, as a society, we like to make predictions: hover-boards will be our main mode of transport, the world is going to end in 2000, 2012, and then 2016. We try to predict the trends that will last, and how we’ll be spending our time. However, we often don’t give nostalgia enough credit for its ability to provide a lifeline to the more ‘old fashioned’ pleasures in life.


Sometimes newer doesn’t mean better.

Predictions for the future:

What are we going to be nostalgic for next?


2 thoughts on “Nostalgia: Where the Past Meets the Future

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