Mar 20, 2014

Cringeworthy Digital Evolution


If you’re anything like me, you’re mildly ashamed of your early ‘aughts Internet persona.

In this rapidly fluctuating world we’ve coded for ourselves, we’re constantly looking at ways we once used the Internet. It’s like showing our children our old high school yearbook, even if we don’t have children to laugh at our bellbottoms or big hair.

We broadcast our early media faux pas – AIM away messages and Myspace quotes – because we’d like to think we’ve gotten smarter and savvier and we know better now.


Cue Carrie Bradshaw Voiceover: When it comes to the Internet, why do we hide from the past?

In honor of its 8th birthday, Twitter released a rather elegant tool that lets users jump back and find their first tweet.  Barack Obama petitioned Americans to help end the war in Iraq.  Justin Bieber’s first tweet contained a link to his Myspace.  Us Weekly compiled a list of other celebrity firsts, including Lindsey Lohan’s shoutout to then-girlfriend Samantha Ronson.   Mine was relatively boring.

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Megan Garber’s article in The Atlantic examines the growing trend of nostalgia as a marketing tool. Psychologist Gabriel Trionfi, who became Pinterest’s user experience researcher, reflects how “nostalgia boosts people’s mood” by letting them re-live their positive emotional experiences.

“Nostalgia, at its most basic level, requires access to memories—and there is, of course, no better archive than the Internet. The social networks that are becoming increasingly synonymous with our experience of that Internet are attempting to use that fact for their own gain.”

If people use social media to share their triumphs and broadcast their own happiness, an instant mood-elevator is always available. By downloading an archive of tweets or fishing through early Facebook photos, you’re taking a digital Zoloft of sorts.

This is why we love embarrassing ourselves, and we indulge in that nostalgia spiral every time someone puts out a new tool like or Facebook’s Look Back.   It may be because millennials aren’t old enough to really “look back” – our nostalgia has deep commercial roots and we’re constantly being bombarded with our past.  But it’s also a way announce that at one point, you weren’t as self-conscious or self-aware as you are in these troubled modern times.

Personally, I miss the days when the Internet was a way to broadcast jokes between friends, or to relive a particularly fun night in college that probably ended up generating a bunch of horrendous photos albums like this one from 2006:

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Before the Internet was a marketing tool, it was a way to communicate with people I couldn’t see every day, and the things I posted on their wall or broadcast to twitter weren’t very exciting.  But they were silly reminders of what little concern I once had for my personal brand.  Fortunately, Twitter’s new tool makes it remarkably easy to find anyone’s blooper reel. Soak it up before it becomes a part of the past.