Nostalgia in the Age of Social Media: Identity, Meaning & Connection

Short thesis

Nostalgia is an emotion so common it can feel unremarkable. But engaging with nostalgia isn’t an empty act: nostalgia exists to nurture and reinforce essential psychological processes of identity, meaning, and connection. Social media platforms are adding features that serve us our 'memories'—content we've shared, and actions we've taken, like friending someone. This talk asks: what does it mean to experience nostalgia within these digital spaces?


On March 24th, 2015, Facebook officially launched its “On This Day” feature. On This Day shows past status updates, photos, posts from friends and other things users shared or have been tagged in—from one year ago, two years ago, etc. However, this is a carefully curated past, algorithmically produced to favour positive moments and sanitise the negative.

Nostalgia was once limited to our own capacity to remember, while sometimes engaging with physical locations and possessions as triggering mechanisms. Since social media nostalgia relies on hosted and curated digital spaces, can we sufficiently map our psychological structures of identity, meaning, and connection to them? Can social media nostalgia inform and reinforce these psychological structures? And indeed, this points to a much larger question about whether or not our digital self is a distinct entity.