the fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@gmail.com

Face­book sent a mem­ory the other day. A hol­i­day snap popped up on my news feed with the words: “We care about you and the mem­o­ries you share here.” Thanks, Face­book, but it wasn’t a good day as I re­mem­ber it. A bit of bick­er­ing, a missed train. I looked at the photo again. What the hell, it was only a year ago.

Face­book wants me to get misty-eyed about a hol­i­day that’s still weigh­ing on my credit card. I haven’t down­loaded the pho­tos to my lap­top yet. And it’s al­ready a mem­ory?

Face­book doesn’t know me well. But it does know that most of the bil­lions of young peo­ple love noth­ing bet­ter than be­ing re­minded of the old days — like catch­ing a train in Oc­to­ber 2014 or that silly TV show in 2007 or the days when they thought a flip phone was the coolest thing since Sponge­Bob SquarePants.

It’s called early-onset nos­tal­gia, a per­fect ex­pres­sion of the way young peo­ple have an­nexed the only thing that made old age bear­able — the mem­ory that things were bet­ter when they were young. You don’t have to visit an aged fa­cil­ity to hear tales of the good old days; you just have to find a bar where the cock­tails come in jars and the pa­trons swipe through their phones to find cute stuff that hap­pened yes­ter­day.

They re­gale each other with mem­o­ries of My Lit­tle Pony, De­grassi High, Austin Pow­ers, Cab­bage Patch dolls, Don­key Kong, Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Buzz Light­foot, Ta­m­agotchi, Magic Eye, Polly Pocket, Mon­key Magic, scrunchies and a site called MyS­pace.

And to help them mine their mem­o­ries they have Buz­zfeed — 48 rea­sons 1990s kids had the best child­hood — and Tum­blrs such as nos­tal­gasm.tum­blr.com and Google to set­tle ar­gu­ments about whether naughty John was the best Playschool host ever.

The dig­i­tal stream that flows through their lives makes in­stant mem­o­ries pos­si­ble. They are never out of touch with how things were or who they were. But why are they so in­ter­ested in their (rel­a­tive) youth?

One an­swer is the rem­i­nis­cence bump. It refers to the find­ing that au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal mem­o­ries aren’t dis­trib­uted evenly through life but peak be­tween the ages of 10 and 30. That’s when the sense of self is most firmly rooted in mem­ory, so it’s the pe­riod peo­ple re­fer back to with the most emo­tion. My Lit­tle Pony, for many 30year-olds, was an im­por­tant part of not only who they were but also who they are now.

It also may ex­plain why author Judy Blume, who re­cently toured with her first adult book in 17 years, cre­ates such in­tense re­ac­tions from read­ers who grew up with her young adult books. “When they cry when they meet me,” she said in an in­ter­view, “it’s be­cause I’m their child­hood. I re­mind them of their child­hood.”

It’s not just child­hood au­thors and ex­truded toys that make youth mist up; mu­sic also is strongly tied to the ado­les­cent years. Neu­ro­sci­en­tists have found the songs that were the sound­track of teenage years carve out a spe­cial place in your mind. Decades af­ter you pranced to Janet Jack­son’s To­gether Again at the school dance or mooned around py­jama par­ties with Justin Bieber on the iPod, those songs will be the ones you’ll belt out at karaoke. If it con­cerns 20-year-old women that they never es­cape Bie- ber, it’s not ap­par­ent in the ways they keep swip­ing to the past. The bonds that were cre­ated when Bieber and Bratz dolls dom­i­nated Satur­day af­ter­noons will be hard to break be­cause they’re al­ways be­ing re­freshed (see Buz­zfeed, 27 For­got­ten Early 2000s Fash­ion Trends).

The dig­i­tal era has cre­ated an ap­petite for the past in a way fam­ily photo al­bums never did. Noth­ing gets dusted off any more, it’s all there all the time, pop­ping up on a screen near you.

But what hap­pens to mem­o­ries if they are al­ways be­ing re­freshed? Do they even feel like mem­o­ries or are they pop-ups in a dig­i­tal brain that have a brand at­tached?

Mem­o­ries may not be so pri­vate, pre­cious or even fuzzy but, frankly, I’d like to be the one to choose them; to drag them from the sen­ti­men­tal swamp of my mind or en­counter them in an odd smell or a half-heard tune. I don’t want help from an al­go­rithm to get nos­tal­gic.

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