Vivek Haldar

The Nostalgia Trap

I am part of the generation that spent most of their childhood in the analog world, and then gradually turned digital as they came into young adulthood. We are often referred to as “digital immigrants”, contrasting us with the “digital natives” born somewhere between a decade and two later. But a more appropriate term would be the “abyss generation”, because somewhere deep down we are stuck in limbo, in the abyss between fully analog and fully digital, of two worlds, yet fully belonging to neither.

Growing up, we used a lot of paper. A lot of color pencils and crayons. Our teachers put us through endless drills in cursive handwriting. A neat, legible, and beautiful hand was something to be strived for, something that was prized, and rewarded and shown off.

We had long afternoons to ourselves. We had a loyal band of neighborhood friends. We would have four hour long play sessions. Sometimes, we would listen to entire albums from beginning to end–while doing nothing else. Do you even remember the last time you just listened to music, without it being a soundtrack to some other activity you were doing?

Sometimes, we ache to go back to that time. That time seemed simpler and purer. So much so that we are willing to mutilate memories from our immediate past with sepia and Polaroid filters. Nostalgia is painful, but it is also sweet and powerful.

But here is the thing: nostalgia is a trap. It is not that those times were simpler and purer. We were simpler and purer.

Nostalgia is easy to fall into. And the older you get, the easier it gets. The universe of things you can look back on only increases with time. And it seems so much more pleasant than looking forward, where you only see hopes and dreams and fears and probabilities. It takes conscious effort to not go down that slope, to instead look to the future, and actually create it. And it takes even more effort, and more courage, to objectively compare the past to the present, and face the fact that, yes, indeed, most things are better, and are more likely than not to continue getting better.

Over the last year, I have found myself writing by hand again. Sometimes, it is page after page of straight prose. Sometimes it is phrases and bullet points and underlines and bubbles. Sometimes it is just random senseless doodling. And the reason I have come back to that archaic activity is my LiveScribe pen. I no longer have to worry about losing all that. Something that is naturally analog and free-form is seamlessly brought into the digital world.

We seem to be enveloped by the literature of despair and frustration. Complaints and pessimism always seem to be more profound and erudite when placed next to cheerful optimism. Reject that.

Look forward. Make the future.