Think Tank: Throwback Thursday

I have participated in Throwback Thursday (#tbt or #throwbackthursday, depending on your hashtagging preferences) and Flashback Friday (again, #fbf or #flashbackfriday) a grand total of three times. Coincidentally, all three photos happened to be from concerts. My motivation for today’s photo stemmed from the facts that I found it in my Camera Roll, thought it was cool, and realized that I had never shared it.

As I tapped the “Share” button on my photo this morning (a really awesome photo of the Arctic Monkeys at the Staples Center in August), I realized just how weird posting old photos on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram really is. If social media is supposed to be documenting the here and now, why are we all obsessed with throw- and flashbacks? What is it out to prove?

Like any budding journalist, I went to the Internet.

You can always count on Urban Dictionary to give you the cold hard truth.

You can always count on Urban Dictionary to give you the cold hard truth.

After scrolling through the first few pages of 19,000,000 search hits, I realized something important that was staring me right in the face.

Good old postmodernism strikes again.

Those are a lot of #tbts.

That’s a lot of #tbts.

Over 265 million Instagram posts with one variation of the hashtag is somewhat alarming. Does today feel so bad that we need a weekly reminder that the past was better?

Society really enjoys nostalgia because in one sense, it reminds us all of the past and “the way things used to be.” Fredric Jameson, who wrote a very dense but good book about postmodernism and the cultural logic of late capitalism, also said that nostalgia “directs our attention to what is a culturally far more generalized manifestation of the process in commercial art and taste.” He was talking about retro films, but I think it applies here too. We’re conveying the “pastness,” even if the photo was taken two or three days ago,  through sharing photos that are “old” to us. Instagram has made an already accessible art form even easier, and being able to share pieces of personal history means something to us. One day, the idea of a Instagram photo will probably seem very nostalgic. Someone might already be thinking that.

And, being able to post old photos seems to prove that the moment actually happened in a world of ephemeral messages. A “like” from someone is not just an affirmation that you took a good photo or you’ve done something cool — it’s part of a social context where the people you know, via a tap or a click, acknowledge you and believe that you actually did whatever the photo is saying you did.

What do you think about Throwback Thursday? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

P.S. I couldn’t find any cultural criticism on Throwback Thursday, which was a little surprising. If you know of any good articles, feel free to share them!

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Think Tank: Throwback Thursday

  1. I don’t think the point of posting pictures from the past is necessarily for a reminder of how the past was better, but more for convenience. Social media is a huge part of life for a LOT of people, and we’re so used to sharing our daily on goings through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., that I feel like people want to reconnect with the past the way they connect with other others now; through social media.

    But I’m really glad you posted about this, because I was really curious about it, too! 🙂

  2. zoelance

    Thanks for replying, Sarah! What do you mean by “convenience?” That people want to share things anyway, and social media is the most convenient way to do that?

    I didn’t think about it until now, but maybe we are repurposing the Internet as our own personal archives/photo albums. Maybe one day physical photo albums will cease to exist and we’ll all just point each other to our social media accounts. (A very sad day, from my point of view.)

    • Yes! I remember up until maybe 5-7 years ago, I would be sharing pictures with friends the old fashioned way, by flipping through an album. But because of the easy access to the internet and all social media, I think it’s become the best way to share pictures; both of current activities, and of the past.

      And yeah, you’re right. I believe that too. (And it will be a very sad day. There’s something very exciting about getting pictures developed and putting them into photo albums.)

  3. Tim Lynch

    Your thinking and writing are increasingly elegant, Zoe. Just curious: Who are your favorite female essayists? Have you read Rebecca West? I had a class way back in the day that focused on essayists, and I thought she was the smartest and most cogent of a brilliant bunch. And now that I’ve reflected on this, I think I’m going to buy “Selected Letters of Rebecca West” on Amazon.

    • zoelance

      Thank you, Tim! Blogging has become a fun side project, and writing something that isn’t academic or advancement related makes me feel more creative.

      I have not read any Rebecca West, but I need to add her to my list. I love Joan Didion for her writing style, Fran Lebowitz for her humor and Susan Sontag for her observations.

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