Why do I hate nostalgia

Nostalgia: Design, hope, values: users want “old” Internet back - and get it

Goldfish lazily spin through an aquarium. The sound of bubbling water can be heard loudly. Is there anything else going on here? No, the "MVI 9360" video ends uneventfully after a little over a minute. It is quickly replaced by a dog sled ride from the first person perspective. Then follow two bored teenagers who are apparently standing in the corridor of a US high school and mumbling a chemistry lecture into the cell phone camera.

The videos can be seen on the website defaultfile.name, a web art project. Only obscure YouTube videos are shown, which under normal circumstances would hardly be found. That sounds absurd, but the site has hit a nerve, the audience is large. And others had the same idea. Several sites with good names like Youhole and Randomly Inspired also show videos that are as unknown as possible.

The promise of the internet

Why do people watch videos like this? Quite simply: Because they want to remember YouTube from the past. The - now legendary - first YouTube video ever lasted 18 seconds. It showed the co-founder of the platform Jawed Karim standing in a zoo and realizing that elephants have really long trunks. A punch line is not provided. This was the tone that continued on the platform for a long time. Before young Youtubers marketed themselves, inexperienced people with cameras and internet connections simply went on shooting. The website was a window into the world, and not into the living room of professional, cheerful influencers.

“Global village” gave way to Shitstorms

It was also the primal promise of the Internet: the philosopher Marshall McLuhan had already stated in the 1960s that the world was turning into a “global village” thanks to new communication options. The new neighborhood showed their home videos on YouTube. The fact that the encounters often remained very superficial did not immediately bother me. Because the global village was huge, and the mood was optimistic. A utopian future for society was negotiated here; everything seemed possible.

Today people remember that time wistfully. The surprise, the random, has given way to a very controlled Internet. Large corporations such as Amazon, Google and Facebook shape our perception of the Internet. Initially, users sought civil behavior; the word netiquette was included in the Duden dictionary in 2000. Today people abuse each other on Twitter. The word Shitstorm made it into the reference work in 2013. The naive, idealistic online culture has given way to a cynical struggle for attention.

So there are reasons for longing for the good old internet. But of course the online pioneers of the past are also nostalgic. The Internet is like Playmobil pirate ships or the evening sandman ritual. The shared memory of times past connects us.

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A yellowed photo album

If you want to see how it used to be, you end up at the largest online museum - the Internet Archive. The forerunners of social networks are also stored in the Internet archive and can be searched. Profile pages were widespread in online communities such as Geocities or Myspace. But the once lively forums have frozen, as lively as a yellowed photo album. We can only look at the memories. But what was great about the early network was not the look, but the new possibilities it opened up.

Back then, the Internet was noticeably a different world from ours, separated by a technical barrier. Entering the Internet required cumbersome rituals, starting up an expensive computer for several minutes, and patiently staring at a flickering CRT monitor. Today we carry the internet around with us on our smartphones. The web is part of our augmented reality. And with that we have lost a parallel world. We can never reach them again, and we probably glorify them the way memories always do.

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“Hypnospace Outlaw” makes retro dreams come true

The much-praised computer game "Hypnospace Outlaw" deals with this difficult relationship. At first it doesn't look like a game at all, but rather like a complete user interface of a computer from the nineties. The obvious template of the game are internet communities like Geocities, where people developed their own websites and found like-minded people. The players boot up the computer they are playing, call up ancient e-mail programs and Internet browsers and surf through a fictitious community as a kind of moral police.

But something is wrong with the past. An alternate reality appears on the screen. Instead of the well-known Internet, the players visit the "Hypnospace". In this fake Internet, the reality is also different, people listen to a type of music called “Freezepunk” and play “Trennis”, a tennis blend for three players.

“Hypnospace Outlaw” is funny - not only because the human banter is well written in it, but also because it alienates our memories in an original way. But the look and feel of the internet from yesteryear and the way people met each other is exactly what it was.

Artists examine nostalgia