Nostalgia Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

For most people, our memories tend to be filled with a range of events both good and bad, exciting and tragic, meaningful and superfluous. Sometimes we have certain events that stay crystallized in our minds for the rest of our lives, the importance of the event so great that it shapes the course of everything that follows it. Regardless of how we view whatever memories we might have, we have a tendency to want to romanticize the way things “used to be”.

The crazy thing about this is that science has proven many times over that our memories are highly unreliable. When put to the test using objective evidence, most people are unable to recall even the major details of what we think would be highly memorable events. One example of this is when a hit and run accident was staged in front of a group of people and afterward they were asked to describe what happened. Few people could even agree on the color of the car, and no one was even close to getting a reasonable estimate on how fast one car hit the other. Human memory is extremely pliable and it doesn’t take much to shift the objective information we absorb through our senses into a new reality shaped by our viewpoint of the world.

It is this tendency to see the world through our own personal lens that causes us to look into our past and see value where the never really was any. No one likes to think bad things about themselves, and we all want to have amazing and positive lives, so it’s pretty natural for us to want to think that things were better than they really were. Many times we end up looking at our current situation and compare it to this false rosy image of the past and begin to believe that things were just better back then. Convinced thoroughly that we remember things correctly, we are unable to see that the past just wasn’t as good as we remember it to be.

An example of this lies in the very well known phrase “they just don’t make them like they used to”. While this does apply to a small number of things, this really isn’t a very good expression in our modern era. The reality is that most of the things from the past are far inferior to the quality and utility and safety of the things we have today. For example, many people love the look and nostalgia of classic cars, but when viewed objectively they were incredibly unsafe, had suspension systems that made them difficult to handle, and were very unreliable compared to modern standards.

The same thing applies to things like old video games, which most of us in the gaming community tend to romanticize quite heavily. We remember the feeling of how it seemed so amazing that we could do this incredible thing with computers at the time, and in our minds we remember that feeling of awe the first time we played something like Doom or Master of Magic. When we go back and play those old games after twenty years of rapid improvement, however, that nostalgia is quickly shoved aside when we see the comparably terrible graphics and clunky interfaces that make them very difficult to live with after becoming accustomed to the streamlined and beautiful games we have today.

In reality, nostalgia is rarely justified. New things are almost invariably better than any of the old things we used to have. Even the average car performs better than many of what were considered the super cars of the past, with top speeds and zero to sixty times not much slower than some of the most expensive cars from thirty or forty years ago. Games like Call of Duty or Neverwinter are far superior to the examples given above in both visual quality and economy of gameplay. Things are simply better today than they were before, and it is only our sense of nostalgia that makes us think that it would be better to go back.

Perhaps the best way to get the best of both worlds is exemplified in the classic car community. You can purchase something like a replica of the classic Shelby Cobra Mustang GT, which is basically a modern sports car with the classic body mounted on top of it. With this option, you are able to get that classic feel that your memory tells you is amazing while still getting all the good things we get from modern technology. Perhaps this is the main idea behind many of the video game remakes we’re seeing today such as Final Fantasy 7, where the story is mostly the same as it was back in the nineties but with much better graphics and an updated combat engine. New tech that caters to our old memories.

We all tend to romanticize the past, and there really isn’t anything wrong with that so long as there is no way to go back and verify the truth of things. Once we go back and actually look at something that used to be important to our memories, however, we get that dose of reality that shatters the nostalgia that made whatever it was seem so amazing. If we really want to experience the past in a positive way, it might be necessary to either remember it probably wasn’t as good as we think it was, or figure out a way to apply what we’ve learned since then to make the old something new again. Nostalgia is a great feeling, but it is rarely the truth.

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