Today, thanks to scientific discoveries and technological innovations, we live safer, longer, and more comfortable lives than at any time in human history. Nearly all of us would be unwilling to surrender these advancements for ourselves and our loved ones. Yet it is common for people to feel nostalgicfor the past. At first glance, our sentimental longing for bygone days appears to be in conflict with our demand for progress. I even suspect most proponents of progress would intuitively assume that nostalgia undermines progress. How can people address the challenges of the present and build a better future if they are longing for the past?
These progress advocates, however, might be surprised to learn that nostalgia increasesinspiration, optimism, creativity, self-confidence, and the motivation to pursue future-oriented goals. And they might not realize how much they themselves turn to nostalgia for inspiration; there is a fair amount of nostalgia within the progress movement for past eras characterized by rapid economic and technological development and a culture of optimism about the future.
Like most others who use nostalgia as a psychological resource, however, progress enthusiasts don’t want to return to a previous era. They are looking to the past for ideas to help energize progress in the present. For example, people expressing nostalgia for a time before smartphones typically aren’t rejecting technological advances—they don’t want to give up the ability to video chat with a loved one who lives far away. Instead, they are looking for solutions to the problems new technologies have created or exacerbated. Their nostalgia highlights their desire to improve their social lives by using technology more intentionally.