“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
You’ve seen the Facebook pages dedicated to them. You’ve seen high street brands ridiculously jump on the bandwagon and print cringeworthy t-shirts of oh-so-relatable slogans about them. You’ve heard (and probably made) the jokes about them.
‘90s kids’: totally and utterly obsessed with nostalgia for their birth or childhood decade. Why? Why are those darn millennials always harping on about the past? I can certainly hazard some guesses.
We grew up through the most rapid technological transformation in history.
Throughout our childhood computers were becoming faster and smarter and smaller and more essential every single day. The list of “must-haves” became longer and more expensive and more sleek. We are the ‘technological generation’ – we are also the last generation to clearly remember chalkboards, dial-up internet.
We remember a time before computers were an essential part of everyday life – I distinctly remember our first computer, complete with Windows 95; the first time we got internet, the shrieking dial-up tone; the roller ball in the bottom of the computer mouse that would stick constantly. We straddle the line between the non-tech generation of our parents and the full-tech generation that came after us. We are unsure which version of the worlds we have known we prefer. And in amongst the complexities of navigating early adulthood / graduate life / job market woes / trying to afford rent / trying to enjoy life / trying to cultivate a social media feed that paints a honey-glazed version of our existence, we ultimately yearn for a time we remember fondly as being simpler, easier, more comfortable, more analogue; our childhoods.
We are the generation who are feeling the effects of the baby boomers the hardest. We are the generation who are facing £9000 per year university fees; a shot job market; hopeless homeowning prospects; a failing economy which only works against us. Almost every “90s kid” is now in the stages of early adulthood, trying to navigate a path through shark-infested, poisonous waters left behind for us by earlier explorers. All the wondrous, spectacular promises of a dazzling future, have come to very little (thanks a lot 2007). We are stuck. The pressing need to “keep up” is overwhelming and exhausting; keep up with technology, with news, with TV shows, with music, with current affairs, with your social life; it’s all at the flick of a button or a swipe of a screen. You’re supposed to keep up. Life is moving forwards. No time to linger.
My generation live our lives through a lens of anticipated nostalgia, always looking back and holding on to the past as our lives push forward; perhaps by way of quiet rebellion, a need to stubbornly resist the natural passage of time, pushing back against our childhoods filled with accelerated change and technological progression at a dizzying, disorientating pace. We live events in the possibility of their nostalgia, in how they will look later on on our social media feeds, on how they will be remembered. If you’ve ever been at a gig and wondered why everybody seems to have their phones out, watching the gig through the screen instead of experiencing it happening around them, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. We are not present. We are always looking backwards, facing away from the direction we are headed in.
I do not know of any other generations who are so characterised by their resistance to grow up. Previous generation couldn’t wait to grow up and get an office job and get married and have kids and Get On With Life, or so they are portrayed. A constant observation amongst my peers – usually noted with a tone of horror – is the classic “oh god when my mum was my age she already had me / my brother / my sister, and all I have is student loans and a cat”. I get the feeling that reluctance has never been more potent than now.
Meanwhile, perhaps ironically against our resistance to technology, or perhaps in spite of it, we have a social media persona to meticulously upkeep. The versions of us who reside in the virtual world are happier, their lives more exciting and vivid, picture-perfect. They lead the lives that we want to lead; they do not exist in the limbo of analogue vs digital, of old vs new. Do we thank technology or curse it?
The incongruency is jarring; our identity crisis deepens; and by reflex we long for our childhood naivety, stowed safely away in the 90s.