Columnist reflects on the end of the decade and the importance of nostalgia.

By Noah Mizer, ’21

In the first episode of Mad Men, Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, describes nostalgia as “a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” Everyone believes the first rule of marketing is “sex sells,” but Draper knows that nostalgia always wins.

Whether or not social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram are trying to sell us this notion of “nostalgia,” we can’t deny it’s working in their favor. It’s easy to laugh—or to blow air out of my nose slightly harder than normal—at the memes with the caption “remember when…” along with a picture that somehow manages to pull out a childhood memory from the deepest recesses of my mind. But what really makes me smile, isn’t the badly cropped image likely stolen from another creator, it’s the fact that the same image I found funny, has thousands and thousands of likes. We all laughed at this because we all had this shared childhood experience.

I’m sure all the older generations that preceded us had their own inside jokes or maybe some shared experience, whether it was discussed or not. But ours is the first generation to be able to communicate this internationally. We’ve been given platforms to create and to share that are largely dominated by us. Yes, the older generations can make fun of us: the anti-social generation, the iGeneration or whatever name they want to call us this time. Maybe they’re right about us wasting time on these platforms and ignoring real life by looking at old pictures and videos. But if they had the ability to go back in time through these little devices and remember the past fondly, I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t. 

In just three months, this decade will come to a close and a new one will begin. There’s no saying what these next ten years will come to be known as, and maybe when we have grandchildren we will refer to them as we did the “roaring ’20s.” But right now, it doesn’t seem like that’s the direction we’re heading in. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me talking, but it’s difficult to ignore another upcoming, and most likely polarizing election, talk of an economic recession, and increase in mass shootings and the dangers caused by irreversible climate change. Whether or not these predictions and trends serve to be true, as of now it appears we are looking upon a grim future. 

With all this in mind, looking to the past is more important than ever. While we can’t ignore the problems at hand, we must at some point escape the unpredictability of life for our own sanity, and what’s more predictable than the past? We’ve all lived through it, why shouldn’t we reminisce about it sometimes? The world around us is getting faster and faster. Messages can be sent in mere seconds and ideas are constantly being exchanged and shared. So, yes, let’s step back—no—fall back into the past. At the risk of sounding cliche, I say let’s look at the photos of the people we care about and the memories we cherish. Just as Don Draper said, “[nostalgia] lets us travel the way a child travels—around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.” Let’s go to this place of nostalgia and feel a memory all over again, but let it serve as a reminder that despite everything this new decade wants to throw at us, there’s always something worth living for.