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Is Gen Z Nostalgic About Nostalgia?

With access to seemingly unlimited social archives, young people still understand nostalgia. It might just be a bit different from their parents' version.

Staying connected is easy. Right now I'm more than 2,000 miles from home, but thanks to Wi-Fi, I can send reams of information to family and friends with just my fingertips. Thanks to photos, videos, and text messages, we no longer need to update one another through ritualistic small talk when we meet.

I'm still only 21, so maybe I don't truly understand what it means to be nostalgic. But even at my age, I realize that, in a world where all of us are easily connected, it can sometimes be harder to miss things, at least in the most literal sense. There are very few things we can't get access to even with time or distance separating us, or few things we can't find in an archive.

It's now easy to bring back our past. Most people's social media accounts have photos and personal information from so far back that friends I met this year can see photos of me from years ago. They can see what songs I listened to and what authors I cared about. They can peek into my life even when they weren't there for it. It's like an online archive of our personal histories, streamlined through a few clicks. Distance seems to matter less too, regardless how far away our friends move.

You might think that, with traces of our lives everywhere online, there's nothing left to miss.

But does that make nostalgia almost too easy?

I miss the seemingly small things in life that take up big space in my mind. Like that playground where I played foursquare that reminds me of the fourth grade. Or my old clothes. Or that brand of cereal I ate.

What do I have to miss of the time since I started storing words, photos of places, and friendships online?

Well, I'll just have to click to find out.

Nostalgia is a feeling. It's everything to do with caring. It's having someone in your mind. It's about memories that make you feel warm on a cold day.

I'm thankful for the Internet's ability to remember important moments of my life because it's still more efficient than I am. It carries a memory storage size larger than I can imagine and instantly summons a variety of multimedia tools to conjure memories I thought I'd forgotten.

But these tangible triggers are merely a prompt to feel. With so much within our reach, it may initially appear that we no longer miss things that used to seem more important because we were divided by the barriers of time and space.

As the architect Louis Sullivan famously said, form follows function. All the digital tools that we have are only useful if we remember what they stand for: They are merely reminders of feelings from our past. It is up to us to feel. Technology can bend time and space to make facts or moments easier to remember, but memory will only be complete with feelings attached. Because life isn't just about what happened; it's also about how we felt.

Take a step back. Put down the trinkets of memories that facilitate the emotion. Once you get in touch with your own feelings, you'll realize that you still feel that warm, fuzzy cinnamon swirl at 2 a.m. that tickles your body as you recall stories from the past. Technology is a mechanism: It is a tool that gives you more access to pieces that prompt that nostalgic feeling. But nostalgia—or any other emotion—is an entirely human feeling that is yours. Technology may transcend time and space, but emotion rests in those stubborn organic organs, your mind and heart.

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Understanding Gen Z, a collaboration between Pacific Standard and Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, investigates the historical context and social science research that helps explain the next generation. Join our newsletter to see new stories, and let us know your thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Understanding Gen Z was made possible by Stanford University's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) and its director, Margaret Levi, who hosted the iGen Project. Further support came from the Knight Foundation.

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