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Ryan Johnson, Published December 12 2013

Johnson: Don’t let nostalgic Facebook photos make you feel old

There’s a perfectly good reason why I still have a copy of Third Eye Blind’s 16-year-old debut album, and that reason is nostalgia.

That intangible longing for the past is an invaluable part of the human identity, a way of reconnecting to who we were then to better understand the people that we have become.

But it can become a weapon in the wrong hands, and the latest nostalgia conflict is leaving casualties all over the Internet.

“Who is old enough to remember when you needed 2 keys for 1 car,” asks a blurry photo of two GM keys that recently appeared in my Facebook newsfeed after a friend had liked it.

“ ‘Like’ if you remember when this was COOL!” suggests another viral photo showing an eight-track car stereo.

It might seem contradictory for someone who still considers the 1991 film “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” as a major influence on his worldview to oppose these seemingly harmless attempts to inspire nostalgia.

But that’s not what these pictures, or the related Buzzfeed lists of “27 things that look just like your childhood,” are really trying to do.

Consider the photo of GM car keys that I mentioned earlier, for example.

That image reminds me of the 1995 Pontiac Grand Am that my brother bought as a high school student in 2002 because the vehicle required one key to unlock the doors, and another to actually start the engine.

The fact that this photo implies that most people in the world will be mystified at this ancient image – of a fairly common car practice well into the 1990s – is simply ridiculous.

My brother is now 28 years old, and if having a personal memory of a car with two keys makes him old, I fear for the 50-somethings out there.

These viral photos really only exist to make everyone over the age of 15 feel old, fossilized, moments away from death to finally free the younger generation of the burden of being surrounded by so many out-of-touch elderly people.

I know that’s the main effect of these pictures because the most common comment I see friends post about them amounts to a sad, simple statement – “This makes me feel old.”

I find myself reacting the same way to Buzzfeed posts, like the one that presented pictures of ’N Sync and Britney Spears circa 1999 as if they were historical photos, pulled far from the depths of civilization’s archive to be presented in glorious list format.

Granted, I was just a middle school student when Justin Timberlake and company became pop superstars, and that era seems like a lifetime ago. But that was only 14 years ago, so it shouldn’t be treated like a long-forgotten event that only historians can recall.

The wisdom that comes with age helps us understand that the passage of time is all relative. Thirty years seemed like an eternity when I was a kid. Now that I’m not too far from turning 30, I realize that this formerly inconceivable amount of time is just a blink of an eye.

Nostalgia is great, and if it makes people happy, they shouldn’t be ashamed about revisiting that favorite book from their childhood or fondly looking at photos of their first car.

But when it’s being used to make us feel lousy about ourselves – especially about our unchangeable physical age – we’d be better off just living in the present.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587