Media and Nostalgia

Part of the series Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies pp 27-38

Analogue Nostalgia and the Aesthetics of Digital Remediation

  • Dominik Schrey


It has become a commonplace to describe the last decades as a period of unprecedented and ever-accelerating media technological transition and of increasingly mediated life environments. Our times have often been characterised as an era of planned obsolescence, turning yesterday’s appraised new gadgets into today’s decrepit devices and tomorrow’s waste. Their disposability may even be ‘one of the truly distinctive features of new media in our age’, according to Jonathan Sterne (2007, p. 18). Moreover, even media formats with a strong tradition like the book (as a material object) or cinema (as a specific ‘dispositif’) are now perceived to be threatened by obsolescence and seem to be outpaced by their increasingly ephemeral digital successors. Referring to these correlating processes, science fiction writer Bruce Sterling proclaimed in 1995 that we live in ‘the golden age of dead media’ (2008, p. 80). It also seems to be a golden age of nostalgia for these allegedly ‘dead media’ that, in fact, continue to haunt a popular culture obsessed with its own past (Guffey, 2006; Reynolds, 2011). Jussi Parikka argues that retro-cultures ’seem to be as natural a part of the digital-culture landscape as high-definition screen technology and super-fast broadband’ (2012, p. 3). This distinct sense of nostalgia that Western societies have developed has to be understood as an integral aspect of our culture of preserving and storing. As Hartmut Böhme notes, in everything that is preserved and remembered they emphasise that which is still lost and forgotten, and thus create a deliberate emptiness (2000, p. 25). With this in mind, it seems important to consider the ‘mediality’ of nostalgia itself.