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Forgotten Smiles

I have been caught underneath a veritable flood of nostalgia as of late. Frequently I have found myself fondly yearning for things from all different stages of my childhood.

Frankly it’s beginning to worry me a little.

Does this mean I’m getting old? Am I unsatisfied with my current life? Do I wish to return to “better days”? Do I have an unhealthy fixation on some of these strange childhood preoccupations of mine?

Certainly the Internet has not been a great help in escaping the grasp of my youthful indulgences. YouTube and Wikipedia alone make it far too easy to become swept up in memories of times gone by.

In seriousness, I jest with my alarmist pondering above, but it is interesting to examine the flavor that the Internet can add to recalling childhood experiences.

With a simple search, things that had become muddy, lost in the depths of my mind and buried under many other memories, can be instantly recalled and brought back to the forefront. It’s an interesting feeling and, while some of the things I find myself fondly remembering now as I browse the web definitely have that “why on Earth was I so fascinated with this crap” quality to them, it is nonetheless refreshing to have the memories brought back to me so vividly. It is nice to know that they’re not really gone for good – they’re just hiding, waiting to be brought back by the right prompt or whim.

On the other hand, the coldness of the digital realm adds a bittersweet quality to the proceedings. I watch as other people’s videos are displayed on YouTube. Slices of their lives are made available to me for browsing, and through them I can gain a window back into my own memories, but not without feeling like a bit of an outsider in the process.

It is also easy to forget that the icons of my youth do not remain trapped in my memory. More often than not they came out of the vile depths of a marketing department and probably existed long before and long after I had any interest in them. So while I do regain many of my own memories browsing the far reaches of the web, they are slightly tinted through a different lens than when I first experienced them: through the eyes of a different family, in a different time period, in a different location, with different details.

But then again, all nostalgia is viewed through a different lens than the one that originally captured the memory. Nostalgia itself is a filter, exaggerating both the good and the bad, the pleasant and the humiliating, and covering up many of those pesky details that take up just a little too much room in our grey matter.

With the Internet at my side I am also able to see, for better or worse, how these icons of mine have been shifted to fit different childhoods than my own; foreign childhoods; childhoods that would look upon my precious memory of the experience as the unusual one. It is a phenomenon that seems to make my own memories both more precious and less personal at the same time. I am on the one hand thankful that I was shaped by the experiences that I was; that these newfangled, unwelcome takes on the themes of my childhood were not the ones I was exposed to. At the same time, the more I realize this, the stronger the light shines on the cheap scenery in the background. I become increasingly aware of the impersonal, profit-driven, corporate roots of so much of what I enjoyed. As much as I still cherish the memories, this is not an overly pleasant thing to realize.

Ultimately I suppose that nostalgia is always bound to be both a little pleasant and a little painful, much like life itself. A fond look back at the happy times of youth reveals many pleasant memories, forgotten smiles, and good times, reminding us of where we came from and who we were. At the same time, nostalgia reminds us that we have grown older, we are no longer that person fondly remembered in our memories, and those things we once cherished will never return to us in quite the same way. The lenses have been changed, the perspective shifted.

Even though the trip may be a little painful, it is a trip worth taking. It is a good pain: a pain of remembrance, of growth, and of wisdom. Those scenes in our memories must by their nature remain forever inaccessible to us, but at least, through this bizarre medium of nostalgia, we are able to relive them somewhat and be glad that we were able to form the memories in the first place. We can appreciate the past without becoming stuck in it. We can embrace the change that has come to us over the years while recognizing the building blocks that got us to where we are in the present.

However cold the Internet may be, I’m still glad to have it as my companion for this journey. After all, without it, who knows what memories could have been lost in those mysterious shifting sands of time.


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