The Future of Nostalgia 2

Published by Bruce Poulsen, Ph.D. in Reality Play

How can we account for the appeal of nostalgic, skeuomorphic design? Surely we can apply perspectives ranging from marketing to social psychology to cultural algorithms. Consider the fact that the specific retro design features commonly found on iOS are from a particular time and place. We have circa late 1970s reel-to-reel tape, gimmicky rotary telephone ringtones, and numerous references and throwbacks to late 20th century American culture. The appeal of such imagery to likely consumers of the iPhone and similar devices is probably as much related to the age of such consumers as anything. We haven’t seen many steam-powered, wind-up, or horse-drawn references on iOS (and if we did, it would only be due to the recent Steampunk resurgence).

From the perspective of cognitive psychology, we might imagine that nostalgic design could appeal to our sense of ease. We bring cognitive sets to a calculator, desk calendar, or music player. When it is recognizable, we might feel more comfortable with it. If it looks inviting, friendly, and familiar, we may have greater feelings of self-efficacy.

In a psychoanalytic view, nostalgia may reflect fantasies about returning home (or, more specifically, to the womb). The term “nostalgia” was coined by the Swiss physician, Johannes Hofer, to describe a condition of Schweizerheimweh–Swiss homesickness–that was present in Swiss mercenaries on extended deployments. As a concept, the term nostalgia describes a sentimental longing for the past–typically for our home or our childhood. We might be drawn to the ornaments of our childhood–old school telephones, record players, suede textures, floppy disks–precisely because of what is evoked, childhood and its possibilities. Nostalgia becomes a kind of wish fulfillment project.

To look at all of this more broadly, perhaps skeuomorphism is symptomatic of our age–a time when we have access to any old image or old recording. We live in an age of remakes, reissues, and sampled music. Books, movies, and television can all be viewed online. With such changes in the media landscape, the only thing left is to dream of the past. Still, the pre-computer, pre-internet past is quickly fading and soon the earth will be populated with people that never knew a world without a printed circuit board. The metaphors that have stirred our imaginations previously will soon be as anachronistic as the horse and buggy.

Published by Bruce Poulsen, Ph.D. in Reality Play

How can we account for the appeal of nostalgic, skeuomorphic design? Surely we can apply perspectives ranging from marketing to social psychology to cultural algorithms. Consider the fact that the specific retro design features commonly found on iOS are from a particular time and place. We have circa late 1970s reel-to-reel tape, gimmicky rotary telephone ringtones, and numerous references and throwbacks to late 20th century American culture. The appeal of such imagery to likely consumers of the iPhone and similar devices is probably as much related to the age of such consumers as anything. We haven’t seen many steam-powered, wind-up, or horse-drawn references on iOS (and if we did, it would only be due to the recent Steampunk resurgence).

From the perspective of cognitive psychology, we might imagine that nostalgic design could appeal to our sense of ease. We bring cognitive sets to a calculator, desk calendar, or music player. When it is recognizable, we might feel more comfortable with it. If it looks inviting, friendly, and familiar, we may have greater feelings of self-efficacy.

In a psychoanalytic view, nostalgia may reflect fantasies about returning home (or, more specifically, to the womb). The term “nostalgia” was coined by the Swiss physician, Johannes Hofer, to describe a condition of Schweizerheimweh–Swiss homesickness–that was present in Swiss mercenaries on extended deployments. As a concept, the term nostalgia describes a sentimental longing for the past–typically for our home or our childhood. We might be drawn to the ornaments of our childhood–old school telephones, record players, suede textures, floppy disks–precisely because of what is evoked, childhood and its possibilities. Nostalgia becomes a kind of wish fulfillment project.

To look at all of this more broadly, perhaps skeuomorphism is symptomatic of our age–a time when we have access to any old image or old recording. We live in an age of remakes, reissues, and sampled music. Books, movies, and television can all be viewed online. With such changes in the media landscape, the only thing left is to dream of the past. Still, the pre-computer, pre-internet past is quickly fading and soon the earth will be populated with people that never knew a world without a printed circuit board. The metaphors that have stirred our imaginations previously will soon be as anachronistic as the horse and buggy.

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