Modern Nostalgia

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It is 9 p.m. and you are just getting home. There is a frozen lasagna waiting to be microwaved and the couch, facing the TV with Netflix on hold, is all set up for a quiet night. Within five to seven minutes, you are wearing your pajamas with a bowl of half-warm, half-cold pasta and your feet over the coffee table. With sticky fingers, you grab the remote and press the Netflix button. Everything seems ready. You select a title and the screen is now showing the cover. Thirty seconds have gone by and the movie has not started. Now, sixty seconds, then two minutes. By the third minute, you have already cursed four times, turned on and off the TV, restarted your router, and tried watching a movie on Amazon Prime instead.

No one can blame you. Our everyday actions are based on the pursuit of effort-avoidance. If you fail to order an Uber, send a text message, check the weather, or ask Google what time it is in Mexico within seconds, you feel betrayed. Technology has given us access to more opportunities than any other generation, and because of this, we have developed a sense of entitlement to its flawless functioning and efficiency. 

Maybe we have started to take for granted the complexity of things that are not meant to be bottled up in fast-paced processes for the sake of saving time and work, but most importantly, our awe for technology is preventing us from noticing its detrimental effects.

In the 20th century, factories, workshops, and fields changed into office buildings, and suddenly, the best-paying jobs were paying to sit at your desk for as long as possible. We became deskbound and then we felt bad about it, so we understood that our bodies and minds need to be challenged as well. In the words of Mark Manson, “we need to force our minds to strain themselves.” To appreciate the world around us, we need to know the world around us.

Think about supermarkets. Thousands of years ago, humans needed to prepare for days to hunt animals and wait for months for their harvests to grow. Now, you get to find everything you need in one place without paying any regard to the thousands of people involved in getting that can of beans from the soil to your hands. 

Since we are diverse beings, we like to vary from time to time. Sometimes, we enjoy ready-to-go pizza and pre-made chicken fingers for a few dollars, but we also pay hundreds of dollars for a fine bottle of wine. Despite the immediate availability of some products, we still place value on the ones that have a story behind them, so we are willing to pay more for them.

We are now living in a mechanized culture that romanticizes the art of craft. Through the years, we began to search for quality instead of quantity. It became so attractive to our eyes to watch a sculptor for hours make a vase just for us. In the words of Justin McGuirk, “there is a post-industrial nostalgia for the pre-industrial.”

Similarly, the Slow Food Movement is a global organization that prevents the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions. The most expensive restaurants in the world guarantee garden-fresh food, meaning they grow their vegetables themselves or marinate their meat for hours. This business model proves to be sustainable because these restaurants know that people will value their product more than a two-dollar hot dog. And it is not about the taste necessarily, but about the experience of intricacy these places provide for their customers.

As a consequence, the developed world now faces the danger of destructive immediacy, but it is not just a matter of quick-paced technologies making our lives easier, or way too easy. The problem is that we are becoming too comfortable with innovation at any cost.

Social media is a modern-day miracle that allows us to connect with people we would have to call or write letters to under different circumstances. It provides us with a space to express ourselves, pursue our interests, and meet new people. However, we tend to focus on what it gives us and disregard what it takes from us.

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, young adults with high social media use are three times more likely to feel socially isolated. Likewise, a publication by the Journal of Medical Internet Research claims that people who perceived they had negative interactions online were more susceptible to depression and anxiety.

The world we have created online is mind-blowing. We all enjoy watching videos of our niece, being reminded of birthdays, following our favorite artists, and posting aesthetic pictures of our brunch. Unfortunately, we struggle to balance our digital interactions with our physical ones, and if we fail to do so, we might lose our essence as a community. 

Modernity has given us wonderful tools to cope with our evolution as humans. We get to do everything sooner and (arguably) better with less effort. But what if taking our time to enjoy the things we create is not a weakness but rather a rewarding choice? The appreciation for organic methods might be the answer to the question we have not asked ourselves yet.

We have no regard for the thousands of people who work to get our Netflix homepage to refresh as fast as possible. Maybe we do not care. But if we did not have Netflix, we would go to the movies and still pay no regard to the people who made cinema possible. Even if we went to the theater, we would just applaud, call it a “fine” production, and carry on with our lives. It is a cycle, perhaps, to take what we have for granted and just crave for what we do not have.

Under this premise, it makes sense that we have supermarkets, streaming platforms, and cars. That makes going to a restaurant, a movie theater, or even walking, valuable to us. It is because of this particular reason that our responsibility as technology users is to enjoy it while keeping alive a sense of curiosity for the real world around us. 

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