A letter from the editor.
The etymology of ‘nostalgia’ is a compound of two Greek words: nóstos, which means ‘home’ and álgos, which means ‘pain’ or ‘ache.’ Together, they stand for ‘homesickness.’
The word ‘Nostalgia’ was first coined in 1688 by the Swiss physician Johannes Hofer, who described it in a dissertation as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause.” He was specifically referencing the homesickness, or “mal du pays,” that Swiss merceanaries felt for their mountainous homeland while traveling in the lowlands of Europe, going on to list symptoms such as “frequent sighs,” “disturbed sleep,” “heart palpitations,” and even death, as some men were too nostalgic to eat.
This idea of nostalgia as a melancholic medical condition proliferated even throughout the eighteenth century and into the mid-nineteeth century, when it was spelled with capital ‘N’ and cited as a diagnosis for soldiers suffering from emotional ailments in the American Civil War as well as World War I.
By the twentieth-century, doctors were all finally in agreement that nostalgia was not, in fact, a medical condition. But it really wasn’t until the twenty-first century that the emotion was seen in a positive light. In the early 2000’s, phsychologist Constantine Sedikides began conducting clinical studies on nostalgia, which revealed that while it may stem from feelings of loneliness and homesickness, it can actually make us feel more connected to others, and thus happier. In short: “Nostalgia makes us a bit more human,” Dr. Sedikides told The New York Times in 2013.
The irory of this discovery today, however, is that the primary vehicle for nostalgia is technology. Facebook, for example, now marks “life events” on your profile as well as “friendversaries” (friendship anniversaries), which are a Hallmark-like highlight reel of your digital relationships down to the number of likes you’ve exchanged. Each Thursday, we’re prompted to mine our past for #TBT Instagram photos. This summer, Snapchat also launched its “Memories” feature, which allows you to download each and every fleeting moment of your life. And then there’s Buzzfeed, which produces content like “45 Things From Your ’90s Childhood You Probably Forgot” and “Women’s Ideal Body Types Throughout History” that capture hundreds of years of beauty standards in three minutes and nine seconds.
Whether its with the Internet, our phones, home video cameras, social media, computers, or even with a small USB drive, technology has made it so that today memory can be purchased, revisited, and recycled in ways that are simultaneously isolating as well as collective.
The Nostalgist magazine aims to give all your memories a home, no matter what form they take. We like to think that if Proust were around today, he would have eaten his madeleine… and then blogged about it.
— Emilia Petrarca