Away from the Sprawl: Preemptive nostalgia and media memories

Graphic by Andrew Golden
Graphic by Andrew Golden

Loud, excited chatter, the crackling of embers and flashing lights filled the air. There was a brief moment at the Homecoming bonfire this year when I was alone, waiting for friends to get back. Not so subtly, there was music blaring from the DJ tent and speakers around the lawn as well. As I stood alone waiting, a remix of Bastille’s “Pompeii,” the smash hit from earlier this year, came on. The song already went through its obligatory played-way-too-often period, and has since settled into the background, but I couldn’t help getting a weird feeling hearing it. The song’s oversaturation has lead me to be almost positive that when I hear it years down the line, I will associate it with this year and time period.

Suddenly, I got a weird feeling that was difficult to identify — I was feeling nostalgic, but for the moment that I was currently in. I’m calling it preemptive nostalgia, because it’s definitely something I’ve felt before — and it most commonly, or at least frequently, comes in reference to media tied to what’s happening around me.

Something I’ve always had trouble with is what most people might call “living in the moment.” I can hardly help it when I hear a song in a situation where I’m with friends or having fun and think — this is what fun is supposed to be, and I am doing it right now, and I’m hearing this song, and it should be significant because that’s how it is in the movies. The same goes for when I see a movie or marathon of a TV show with friends or anyone else I’m having a good time with.

So what do you do if you’re stranded in a moment, realizing you’re having a moment, and not able to stop realizing it? There’s no perfect answer, really. But for me, making that realization is just even more part of the experience. Lately, I’ve taken to whipping out my phone, pulling up the free notepad app that comes on every phone and quickly writing down the event, name of song or other significant media object and whatever other context I need, and then putting it away. That way, I can be sure that I won’t forget whatever I just experienced.

In this age of instant gratification, it can be stressful (albeit in a first-world problems manner) to have so many things happening that you want to give your full attention to each of them — and cement each of them as very important things to you. When everything is documented online or shown off publicly, how do you know which memories to cherish? Or which one will be more important to you in the future? How do you decide what to document more or less of, and which will be more important to future you? In this way, media is a double-edged sword — you can document every memory, but do you want to?

Whether we realize or not, we are being saturated with media at nearly every moment, whether we are listening to music, watching a TV show, glancing at a billboard on the freeway or a plethora of other options. It’s hard to control when you have a so-called life moment — harder still to keep yourself in the moment and stop thinking about it — so when something’s happening, whether you realize it or not, enjoy it for what it is. It doesn’t matter whether you understand that it’s happening to you or not — it’s still fun to look back at memories and realize all the friends you were with, and recall all the different media associations that tie that memory to a time and place.

So someday when you’re feeling nostalgic about college, close your eyes — hopefully it will feel like nothing’s changed at all.

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