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By Ashleylister @ashleylister
“Vinyl is the real deal. I've always felt like, until you buy the vinyl record, you don't really own the album. And it's not just me or a little pet thing or some kind of retro romantic thing from the past. It is still alive”.
    Jack White (Singer, Songwriter)
Retronomy… although the word itself appears to be quite shy in ‘popular speak’, retronomy is generally used to signify newly developed concepts, that self-consciously refer to particular trends, music, modes, artefacts, products, fashions, or attitudes which are soaked in the essence of the recent past.
With reference to ‘all things retro’ the popularity of the phrase itself is relatively modern deriving from the 60s (but originally from the Latin prefix retro meaning backwards or in past times), which denoted new things which had strong characteristics of previous times.
This aspect of life has lead me to consider this question; ‘Why with all the advancements in modern life and technology do we still crave such archaic props or experiences to offer meaning to our lives?
The psychology of purchasing ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’ items is very much multi-layered. Often the impetus to buy retro is fueled by the thrill of the chase, when searching for new items to swell an ever expanding collection. The internet has made it so much easier to obtain modern pieces online, which appears to be the new high street for shopping, but shopping for retro is very much an unparalleled treasure hunt. Therefore part of its allure is simply in the beauty of the process, where you will never know what you will find or learn when embarking on the journey.
Another reason for retro preference is a sense of participating in the history of the object itself. Modern items are ‘tabula rasas’ upon which we write a history, whereas more vintage pieces are already written on. The marks of age and time have already been branded and we want to add to it.
Further to this our recognition of the modern being a throwaway society compared with the old adage of "They don't make things the way they used to." Does imply that the quality, including materials, embellishments, and craftsmanship, in older pieces makes it purchase worthy.
Additionally, in a world of mass production, seeing yourself "coming and going" is an inevitability. We can easily disappear into the world of the ordinary whereas retro ensures originality. That ‘one-of-a-kindness’ that you cannot find anywhere else.
Finally and most simply, for the love of nostalgia and sentiment which prompts us to buy into the representation of it, with the retro piece becoming the embodiment of a bygone era.
So with this in mind… why do we have such a bittersweet relationship with nostalgia?
In life, change is very much the default setting, not the exception; so we are constantly surrounded in transformation, from physical growth to scientific discovery. Novelty, meanwhile, appears to offer the antidote to boredom and stagnation.
Nonetheless, individuals long for a sense of stability. Constant change has been seen to threaten our psychological well-being, especially when we are required to develop a new skillset to meet the demands of our acquired knowledge. Stress inevitably accompanies unexpected or extreme change, since our ability to control situations depends upon a reasonable degree of predictability.
Nostalgia therefore, offers an almost bittersweet window into the past. It’s sweet because it allows us to momentarily relive perceived ‘good times’; whereas it’s bitter because we recognize that those times can never return, and we will eventually return to our hectic dystopia.
Although nostalgia is a universal phenomenon, research has hinted that our nostalgic yearnings are more focused during periods of transition, like maturing into adulthood or aging into retirement. Relocation (such as work or home), or technological progress can also elicit these feelings.
In the face of instability, our mind will reach for our positive memories of the past, which tend to be more crystallized, than negative or neutral ones. We search for those moments where we felt safe, secure and contented. Previously, theorists tended to think of nostalgia as a bad thing – a retreat in the face of uncertainty, stress or unhappiness. Roderick Peters a renowned psychoanalytical theorist in 1985, described extreme nostalgia as debilitative, something “that persists and profoundly interferes with the individual’s attempts to cope with his present circumstances.” More contemporary opinions such as myself would contradict this somewhat maladaptive viewpoint.
Having worked in dementia care for so many years, and having seen the benefits (firsthand) with nostalgic reminiscence therapy, I can see how it offers a stabilizing force, especially when individuals with dementia are surrounded by confusion and disorientation to place and time. It can strengthen our sense of personal continuity, whilst reminding us that we possess a store of powerful memories that are deeply intertwined with our identity. Nostalgic memories that tend to focus on our relationships, can often comfort us during stressful or difficult times. Although individuals have become independent and mature (perhaps even a bit jaded), they often focused on their accumulated life roles from children, sibling, adult, parent etc. In developing a retrospective analysis of our lifelong experiences, we tend to find remembering that we have experienced unconditional positive regard, love, empathy, compassion, strength, belonging, etc. as we have aged, can offer a reassuring outlook for our present – especially during trying times. These memories offers the insight into our personal resilience, providing the courage to confront our fears, take reasonable risks and tackle challenges. Rather than creating a metaphorical prison, trapping us in the past, nostalgia can liberate us from adversity by promoting personal growth. Other recent studies have also identified that individuals with a greater propensity for nostalgia, cope better with adversity and are more likely to seek emotional support, advice and practical help from others. Interestingly, they are also more likely to avoid distractions which prevent them from confronting the issue and generating solutions. A word of caution: for all its benefits, nostalgia can also seduce us into retreating into a romanticized past (being tempted by the dark side)!
The desire to escape into the imagined, idealized world of a prior era – even one you weren’t alive for – represents a different, independent type of nostalgia is referred to as historical nostalgia.
Historical nostalgia often sits concurrently with a deep dissatisfaction with the present and a preference for the way things were long ago. Unlike personal nostalgia, someone who experiences historical nostalgia might have a more cynical or stigmatized perspective of the world, one coloured by pain, trauma, regret or adverse life experiences. The most recent need for identity has led to an unhealthy desire for all things WW2. This maligned longing for these misinterpreted and misunderstood ‘halcyon days’ of war and remembrance. It serves only to create a false memory of what it was like during such horrific times in our world’s history, whilst providing the participants a false escape from real life, which they hope not to return to, which in reality is only going to provide disappointment.
Ultimately, when we focus on our own life experiences – falling back on our store of happy memories – ‘nostalgia’, ‘vintageness’ and ‘retronomy’ are useful tool. It can be seen as a way to harness the past internally to endure change – and create hope for the future.
Gone Not forgotten
Gone not forgotten, time is for healing.
Memories of who we were in the crowd.
Using senses to enhance these feelings.
Sharing the stories and laughing out loud.

Remembering times spent together.
We wanted them to last forever.
Gone not forgotten, this is true.
All the things that remind me of you.

Thanks for reading, Steve McCarthy-Grunwald, December 2018

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