News and Insights

Nostalgia is now, Part 1

July 19, 2022

This blog consists of a two-part series – The first part explores how nostalgic themes affected Gen Zers’ take on nostalgia, as well as its effect on social media consumption and style. While the second part will explore how nostalgic themes are permeating fashion, technology and food.

In 2020, as daily life shrank due to pandemic restrictions, people started to look inwards and backwards for inspiration and comfort. With this came the rise of the pursuit of nostalgia in everyday moments, reflecting people’s desire for purpose and permanence. This cosiness derived from nostalgic outputs continuously serves as the ultimate coping mechanism in the face of rampant uncertainty and turbulent times. Escapism in recognisable elements forms the essence of why throwback culture is currently flourishing.

According to Andrew Potter, associate professor at the Max Bell School of Public Policy at the McGill University, “the current obsession with nostalgia can be read as a straightforward response to rapid technological change. The world is crazy, fast-paced, and fragmented. Our every moment is a flood of texts and DMs and TikTok videos and memes, all of which pass by in an endless stream, seemingly without connection to anything but the passing show.”

A new, ‘near nostalgia’ is impacting everything from style to media consumption habits, and, in doing so, it is challenging the collective cultural memory. Whereas nostalgia cycles have previously been observed to work in 20- or 30-year periods, a swathe of cultural reports indicates that timescales are getting shorter. The start of the 21st century has, somewhat inevitably, been sucked into this nostalgia loop.

As cultural memory shortens and identity becomes more nebulous, Gen Zers particularly are turning to nostalgic familiarity as an anchor for their identity, as well as a source of comfort. People are finding solace in the way that things used to be, meaning nostalgia is an important tool for brands – enabling them to appeal to consumers who are seeking familiarity and comfort.

Gen Zers have a modern take on nostalgia

Most of the people in the UK (73%) say they enjoy products from their childhood, while 44% note that looking back in time made them feel happier during the pandemic. Similarly, while 28% of people say they would travel to the future if they could, 55% would go back in time.

Notably, 69% of Gen Zers say they find comfort in the familiar and 85% like to buy from familiar brands over new or non-mainstream ones. A study of Chinese Gen Zers conducted by researchers at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has found that feelings of nostalgia can lessen physical pain. Similarly, nine in ten Britons admit to thinking fondly about the past at least occasionally, and Gen Yers say they reminisce ‘almost always’.

So why is the so-called ‘woke generation’ interested in such an unprogressive era? And what do shortened nostalgia cycles reveal about today’s young consumers?

Nostalgia’s impact on social media consumption and style

With young people’s lives being severely disrupted by the pandemic and social media intensifying psychological stressors, it is easy to see why Gen Zers are seeking comfort in the past.

On TikTok, young users have been reminiscing about the internet culture of 2014 (just eight years ago), while some people are already expressing nostalgia for the first COVID-19 lockdown of spring 2020 – a time when being stuck at home was seen by many as enjoyable or merely boring.

The trend of nostalgia is prominent within social media, with the @2000sanxiety Instagram account seeing its follower count jump to over 350,000, alongside TikTok videos tagged with #2000s which have gained over 4.7 billion views. Near nostalgia is not only becoming more popular – it is also more specific. The #2014aesthetic trend, for instance, sees TikTokkers share videos of themselves dancing to songs and posting photos from that year, while the Bop or Not challenge involves users rating indie-pop songs from the 2010s.

With 90% of Britons reminiscing about the way things used to be, nostalgia can act as a powerful antidote to the present, which is manifesting in media consumption habits and style choices, with TikTok trends spotlighting music from the mid-2010s and ‘ugly’ fashion.

Stay tuned for the second part of the blog, which will explore how nostalgic themes are permeating fashion, technology and food.

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POSTED BY: Joy Livera

Joy Livera