“Back in my day” and the Downside of Extreme Nostalgia

“Back in my day” is a popular phrase that has become increasingly common in recent times. It’s probably not that recent—I’ve read older books where the author bemoans the newer generations—but it’s becoming far too common, so much so that it really needs to be addressed.


Just have a look at Google Images.

Back to the Future II may have been wrong about a lot of things in 2015, but not the 80s nostalgia. Entire television stations are devoted to shows from our childhoods. If you even suggest the 21st century is a better time than back in the grand old days, you’ll be given a funny look and told: “We didn’t need no gizmos and gadgets. We used to make our own fun by playing with dirt and throwing bricks at each other! Children these days are so lazy and selfish.” Have a look at any newspaper or online comments page, or even scroll down your Facebook or Twitter, and you’ll see this overwhelming nostalgia.

Remember the cliche about seeing things through rose-tinted glasses? Are we too far stuck into the past to acknowledge, while not everything’s great, things have sure as hell have improved from only upper-class males being able to vote, the wars of the Old Testament, and a society that only spoke in grunts and snarls?

It’s not always a bad thing to have a rip-roaring sense of nostalgia. Childhood and the journey to becoming an adult is incredibly crucial, and we want to recall the good times of these well into adulthood. We want to be able to tell the stories—the good and the moderately bad—in order to teach our children and grandchildren all about the big wide world.

grandmatalesStories are incredibly important in relation to humanity. Without stories, we wouldn’t know about the past, we wouldn’t be able to make up stories about the past, and we wouldn’t be able to envision the future. As a writer, it is my job to make up stories; to be able to create worlds and characters readers can just slip into and enjoy the moment. Before Gutenberg invented the printing press, people had to rely on telling stories through word of mouth or by reading well-crafted handmade books.

In this case, nostalgia is incredibly important as a way to relive the past, to [attempt to] avoid making the mistakes of the past, and to show we are better than those before and after us.

Is it changing the way we head into the future? I mean, we are so clouded by the perfection of our own past, we refuse to see the downsides, and in a sense, refuse to acknowledge change. The 1950s is seen as a wholesome, family-friendly time where everything was simpler and friendlier, but the rose-tinted glasses hide the darker elements: invasive fear of the ‘Reds under the bed’, nuclear war, and gender and racial inequality. In the 21st century, video games are seen as a terrible influence on young minds, but the reality is violence has been around long before the invention of arcade machines, not to mention there are ratings on video games parents should abide by.


In the end, there is a clear cut reason for why we’re stuck in the past, and it isn’t really for the reasons above. The true reason is fear. We’re deathly afraid we didn’t learn as much playing with bricks and dirt, whereas children nowadays can learn so much more at the tap of a finger. Video games show the best of reading and television in an interactive element, where you actually have some control as to how the characters behave. The internet is able to connect millions of people around the world to each other at the same time, something that has never previously been seen on Earth.

I still can’t explain the music change, especially hip-hop/rap and dubstep. Maybe that’s the nostalgic part of me holding onto the past.

In the end, holding onto our past is important. As a writer, things that have happened to me inspire my works, and change how I view the world. I’m able to write about a character with a particular issue more clearly if I’ve experienced it in my past. We can’t hide from the past as much as we try. As long as we can acknowledge the truth about it, isn’t that what matters?

The next time you start a conversation with “Back in my day, things were better,” ask yourself why you’re saying it. Was it really that great, or are you just living in the past as a refusal to live in the moment?

It’s important to tell the story but understand the logic behind your opinion. Telling stories are incredibly important to human growth and development, but being a dick about how the current generation is awful isn’t. Note the difference.


Image courtesy of /phasemonkey



One comment

  1. dgrixti · July 31, 2014

    Reblogged this on Dark Gaia Productions and commented:
    As a horror writer and (perhaps more importantly) a game developer — both types of media often accused of being “too violent” or “corrupting society” — I think J.M Morrow hits the spot with her critique of extreme nostalgia.

    People tend to hate things they don’t understand or anything new that wasn’t around in the “Good Old Days”. When the ancient Greeks began writing stuff down, Aristotle feared it would dilute the meaning of stories meant to be passed on orally. When the printing press was invented, monks thought it would compromise the integrity of religious texts. When film began to be accepted as a legitimate art form, writers like Ray Bradbury and J.D Sallinger hailed it as the death of society.

    It’s kind of human nature to rally against something we don’t understand. These days, people say violent video games turn children into murderers, not understanding that a.) some games are meant for adults and b.) most video games have a story, a context for said violence, just like books and movies do.

    Nostalgia is overrated. Instead of criticising something different from what you had, why not try it to see why people like it? Check out J.M Morrow’s blog post:

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