LisN Magazine - Nostalgic For Nostalgia? Why AI, the Internet, and our Modern Online Landscape Have Erased the Value of Nostalgia

Written on 02/01/2024
LisN Magazine Contributor

Nostalgic For Nostalgia? Why AI, the Internet, and our Modern Online Landscape Have Erased the Value of Nostalgia

When it comes to our relationships with songs, films, and other cultural encounters, nostalgia plays a big role in heightening our understanding of our experiences. But in the modern age, tools like AI have meant there is less of a need for nostalgia. This has diminished our appreciation of art - and it makes our cultural world that much smaller

One of the surprising, unintended consequences of having access to the entire history of humanity at our fingertips - as well as powerful AI tools which can do a lot of our thinking for us - is that intangible sensations like nostalgia simply aren’t as resonant as they once were.

Nostalgia is best defined as the way we revisit and re-experience positive memories from the past. These can be individual memories (such as a faint longing for an old holiday), or bigger societal memories (such as a longing for, say, the live music experiences of the 1960s). Nostalgia helps provide us with a sense of comfort and connection with our pasts. In turn, it can also serve as a way for us to pick out and categorize experiences which have brought us joy. 

But in the modern age, there is a growing sense that our feelings of nostalgia are being dulled and diminished - and a lot of it is thanks to AI, social media, and the vastness of the internet in general. 

Social media keeps a meticulous record of our personal experiences, while the internet also keeps a broader record of wider social, political, and cultural experiences. Both of these things poke through the rose-tinted views of nostalgia. 

AI, meanwhile, presents an even greater challenge. 

Music & Nostalgia in the World of AI

AI is designed to perform human tasks - such as making decisions, solving problems, and responding to inputs and prompts. In doing so, AI is perhaps the greatest threat to the wistful, illogical, sometimes nebulous sensation of nostalgia that we all feel. 

AI tools and machines will gladly read your searches on streaming sites, in order to prompt you with song suggestions. They’ll happily curate your profiles so that you only see artists and albums they believe you’ll want to listen to. They’ll help you sift through all the endless content you’re likely to encounter - so that you never have to do anything so old-school as, say, remembering individual songs you might have wanted to listen to for a specific, nostalgic reason. 

For all of AI’s many benefits, by its very nature, it seeks to accomplish the work of nostalgia - ie, remember for you - so that humans no longer need to experience what it sees as an antiquated sensation. 

Lost Memories

But losing our sense of nostalgia - and willingly giving up our memories of cultural experiences to machines - comes with real, tangible problems. 

Listening to songs, letting them attach to certain memories, and then experiencing pleasant longing when those memories are evoked in the future, all help us build a lasting connection to music. 

In many ways, AI breaks that connection. Music writers are already beginning to note that younger generations appear to have a more dissociative relationship with music, which doesn’t seem to engender nostalgic memories in them. Music is more accessible and more ever-present than ever before, and most of the music we consume is prompted and prodded by AI systems and algorithms. But due to this, we are less inclined to consider it as being valuable, leading our feelings of nostalgia for it to fade away. 

We might not see the negative outworkings of this in the present moment, but it presents a bleak insight into how future generations might engage with music and culture. If music, film, and other entertainment forms are freely accessible everywhere - and we don’t value them enough to even let them provoke nostalgic memories - what does that say about the future culture of our society?