The return of retro: What are we really yearning for in all our nostalgia?
#2018 Year-End Special: All the vinyl, lomo filters and hipster accessories stand for a time when things were more predictable, more permanent and when people, ironically, were more connected.
They call it slow. But what it is, a lot of the time, is retro.
Slow food, slow travel, slow living, slow fashion, often mean doing things in the way they used to be done, in a time before hashtags, web searches and constantly refreshing timelines.
“At no other time in our history, have humans been bombarded with as much information, communication and technology as we are now,” says Parmesh Shahani, head of Godrej India Culture Lab. “It’s just a cacophony of messaging, with very little that is permanent. Where you could post on a Facebook wall and it stayed there, now it’s all about Instagram stories that vanish in 24 hours.”
In an endless cycle of posting, scrolling and FOMO, #TBT or Throwback Thursday is now the eighth most used hashtag on Instagram, ahead of even #nofilter. Here, you find sepia-tinted photographs that reflect on a simpler time — a birthday party of cake, chips and samosas; hanging out at a bus stop after college. Also popular are gramophones and vinyl records that require collection and care; upcycling to turn old clothes, furniture and knick-knacks into new; long hikes in areas with no network; intricate recipes and baking.
“What we’re craving in our nostalgia is a more predictable past, where things did not move at the breakneck pace of today,” says the author Manu S Pillai.
What we’re also craving are deeper, more meaningful connections with each other, adds Shahani. “The quest for a deeper connection isn’t new and has been seen in every generation. The rise of yoga and the organic movement in the West were a result of that.”
The business of nostalgia is growing, with retro-styled products like the Vespa scooter, the new Mini Cooper and the Polaroid camera, and vintage bridal wear.
The old and the new have always co-existed, adds Shahani. “The new is built on the foundation of the old. It’s just that today, people are finding the new by recognising, reframing and playing with the old in creative ways.”
When people consume nostalgia today, they aren’t leaving the rest of their lives behind, Shahani adds. “They are not living in the past. It’s a momentary escape. So, Polaroids may be cute but we’re predominantly taking photos with our phones.”
The effort, author and ad man Ambi Parameswaran agrees, is to try and combine the best of the two world. “While on the one hand, retro-styled products have become successful, on the other, new-age streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime are also doing extremely well,” Parameswaran says.
What we’re also seeing is a romanticised, airbrushed version of the past. “While people fondly reminisce about the ’80s as the era of disco and shoulder pads, it was also a time of terrible conflict. The AIDS crisis killed a generation of people all over the world,” says Shahani.
The people who lived in the past were, like us, made of flesh and blood, but we reduce them to icons of perfection or tragedy, Pillai adds. “Reality, of course, is very different, but then if reality is what we wanted, we wouldn’t be overdosing on nostalgia--it is something that helps avoid our own reality. It is a form of escapism at its core, which is not necessarily a bad thing.”