Twin Peaks posters over the bed, polaroids of friends on the walls, record player blaring Nirvana, Mary Janes sprawled on the floor: all things found in my room in 2020, and my mum’s room in 1993. She always used to tell me how strange she found it that what’s classified as ‘cool’ now was just standard then– why are all my friends and I so obsessed with the past?

We are all familiar with nostalgia: a longing for the past, maybe even a sense of displacement rooted in lack of satisfaction with the present. Nostalgia today is more common than ever, with our generation being gifted (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with endless little time machines to transport us wherever and whenever we want. Through photos or videos, songs or movies, we can travel to the past easier than ever before. Maybe that’s why our generation so often experiences the phenomena of ‘anemoia’, or in Tumblr terms: ‘I was born in the wrong generation.’ Anemoia refers to a sense of belonging and wishing to return to a past that you have never actually lived in.

But if we have no memories to associate with a specific time, yet can still feel such a strong sense of belonging, anemoia must root itself in a sense of cultural or aesthetic belonging associated with a specific period. As a history student, I spend a fair share of my time in the past, and I experience this when engaging with past art, medias, and cultures. However, I also know that the past could be just as shit as the present. Does time then act as a filter, sieving out negative elements of the past, leaving an idyllic world of ‘authentic’ and ‘original’ culture that we can take shelter in because it can’t be changed? Really then, is Anemoia not a strain of nostalgia, but an outlet of aesthetic desire for the things we love, real beauty locked in time?

To engage so closely with the past, yet always remain separated by screen, headphone, or page, does this risk anemoia turning into a bitter rejection of the present? Do we ruminate and mourn something we never knew only because it’s anything apart from what we have right now, looking through the window at the view but never to actually experience first-hand the other side of the glass? Perhaps this explains our generational obsession with categorising ourselves: from making Pinterest boards to trends of ‘types’ of girls on TikTok, our generation seem to have a baseline desire to have the aesthetic be present in our lives, and to be self-evident and original. Does this tendency to categorise ourselves and our styles into ‘genres’, ‘types’ and ‘eras’ then come as an attempt to participate in the culture we feel we have ‘missed’? Reliving and immersing ourselves in the past allows us to become cultural agents, as opposed to passive ‘bandwagoners’ on yet another trend.

Regardless of the reasons behind it, anemoia– ‘I was born in the wrong generation’, is stupid. The beauty of culture is that it is meant to be spread, integrated, personalised and edited. Once it exists, it always exists, so instead of ruminating over the past, we should continue to edit our presents to be compatible with the people we want to be.

[Melissa Friel – she/her – @melissafriel_]

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