Under the spell of nostalgia

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In his novel, Ignorance, Milan Kundera writes: “The Greek word for ‘return’ is nostos. Algos means ‘suffering.’ So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”

An entire industry has grown to serve our desire to try and re-experience fond memories; some our own, others imagined. Channel 4 regularly broadcasts compilations of clips drawn from half-forgotten 1980s television shows, while z-list celebrities do their best to sound like their reminisces are genuine.

Meanwhile, Keep Calm and Carry On merchandise does a roaring trade in depicting the past as populated with stoic folk who withstood bombs with a wry smile. In reality, this message was never used in a public wartime campaign.

During a recent wander up the Shambles in York, I came across four Harry Potter themed shops, all hawking a nostalgia-tinged blazer and scarf-clad Britain few of us would recognise, but one tourists love.

Ironically this is in one of most genuinely historic places in the country.

Nintendo struck gold recently with the release of a system modelled after their 1990s Super NES home console, so players can relive the “golden age of 16-bit gaming” on their high definition widescreen TVs.

The nostalgia industry may have started niche, but is now mainstream. VW found huge success by relaunching the Beetle. BMW repeated the trick with the Mini. Fiat followed suit with a reboot of their iconic 500.

Visit any toy department and you may be struck by how many of the brands are familiar from your own childhood, as toymakers shamelessly deploy pangs of nostalgia straight over the heads of children into the hearts of parents and grandparents. And so Rubik’s cubes, Cluedo, Twister and Fisher-Price phones with rotary dials live on.

There is no sign any of this is going away. Vinyl record, film camera, and printed book sales are all growing. Photo filtering apps make it easy to capture moments that feel nostalgic in the very moment they occur.

As Daniel Kahneman puts it: ”The ‘Instagram Generation’ now experiences the present as an anticipated memory.”

By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design