The Atlantic

The End of Forgetting

Technology delivers nostalgia on demand.
Source: Alvaro Dominguez

When Uncle Joshua, a character in Peter De Vries’s 1959 novel, The Tents of Wickedness, says that nostalgia “ain’t what it used to be,” the line is played for humor: To those stuck in the past, nothing—not even memory itself—survives the test of time. And yet Uncle Joshua’s words have themselves aged pretty well (despite being widely misattributed to Yogi Berra): Technology, though ceaselessly striving toward the future, has continually revised how we view the past.

Nostalgia—generally defined as a sentimental longing for bygone times—underwent a particularly significant metamorphosis in 1888, when Kodak released the first commercially successful camera for amateurs. Ads soon positioned it as a necessary instrument for preserving recollections of children and family celebrations. According to Nancy Martha West, the author of Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia, the camera “allowed people … to arrange their lives in such a way that painful or unpleasant aspects were systematically erased.”

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