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The bittersweet art of time traveling

By DANNA PEÑA Published Feb 04, 2021 4:00 pm

When the going gets tough, the tough goes dreaming. Whether your preferred dream destination be a Netflix series, a book, a game, or a workout, “checking out” from reality is a concept that we’re all too familiar with.

When most of the world has been shut off from tangible outdoor escapes, we are mostly left with nothing but indoor-consumable media and hobbies to expend our time and energy on. Screens have become pervasive in the 21st century home, and paired with the internet, the world it uncovers epitomizes both utopia and dystopia — a confusing mass that can often lead us astray, left distracted, amused and everything else in between. 

Among the minefield of real-time news (whether bad or fake) that our screens ambush us with are pockets of memories, reminding us of a pre-pandemic life. Beloved, blissfully unaware and beaming with nostalgia, these memories extricate us — temporarily — from the chaos of life that came to be.

In the same way that we listen to our favorite song from a decade ago or rewatch a childhood film, reposting old memories allows us to commemorate and immerse in the treasured past.

If not submerged in our personal files, these mementos are buried in the interwebs —we scour previously posted albums and memories to find them, or in a more seamless manner, give in to a notification from a social media platform reminding us that it happened exactly a year ago, or even further back in time. And without much thought, we share these moments, trying to relive the memory, giving life to a past that’s already played out.

Sharing old memories, whether previously posted or not, has become a prevalent way of coping. If you hadn’t done so yourself, you may have witnessed a friend doing so: unveiling captured moments on a sun-drenched getaway, in a foreign city being a maskless, wide-eyed tourist, or simply basking at ease in the presence of loved ones — all of the snapshots already lived out and previously posted, but re-shared as though still fresh and palpable. In the age of self-awareness and mindful living, we must ask ourselves: what for?

Some may contend that everything doesn’t need to have a deeper meaning, while others argue there is always some intention, an underlying agenda for every single action in the form of likes, comments or shares. Resharing old posts is redundant, but when there seems to be little else to fill in the absence of new experiences and memories, what’s the harm in doing so?

  Art by Aria Dimaano

In the same way that we listen to our favorite song from a decade ago or rewatch a childhood film, reposting old memories allows us to commemorate and immerse in the treasured past. In the era of social distancing, it’s the closest semblance we can grasp of physical time spent together, with those who we’ve shared memories with.

Pitiful and saccharine it may seem, beggars seeking social interaction are taking what they can get — even if it means mere seconds of watching a memory unfold (yet again), resharing it, and tagging loved ones to trigger them to have the same flashback. Why is there a need for an audience, one may ask? If an old memory provokes nostalgia, why not personally send it to those you shared memories with? 

When it comes to sharing old memories, the transient Instagram Story throwback is more widely used than its more static counterparts — the Instagram or Facebook Feed post. Sharing the memory as a fleeting snapshot —24 hours to be exact — with an Instagram Story feels more casual than expressing nostalgia through more permanent means, whether as a direct message or as a Feed post.

Perhaps choosing the more transient option tells us something about how we shy away from intimacy, terrified of showing vulnerability and coming off as cloying and clingy. For a split second, reposting past memories as an Instagram Story can give the strange illusion that the moment is happening again, too.

Reliving old memories, staying present, and fast forwarding into the future are all methods of staying afloat — perhaps what we need is the right balance that makes us feel content and hopeful.

Different strokes for different folks, as the old adage goes. Coping is different for everybody, and resharing old memories may seem frivolous to one and meaningful to another. Besides, when have we not latched onto delusions or idiosyncrasies in order to feel better?

To some, reposting memories can balm the ache of absence. But when done consistently, does it make it easier or harder to cope? Only time will tell, but one thing’s certain: a great lesson from the utterly chaotic year of 2020 is how we can find strength in each other, even from afar. If reliving memories is your manner of coping, if it helps you find meaning in monotony and conjure up happiness in the midst of grief, if it helps you connect with those you sorely miss, then, by all means, allow yourself to do so. 

These tiny acts of commemoration can be perceived as little love notes in hiding, posing lyrical questions to those who share the same memory: “Do you remember this glorious time? Can you remember how great we had it back then? I’m thinking fondly of you; do these memories make you feel the same way, too?” Just as we share mementos of loved ones that have passed, sharing old memories can be reminiscent of paying tribute to a dearly departed — except, this time, it’s a wistful tribute to a time gone by.

Personally, I find myself both gratified and unsatisfied when sharing old memories — grateful to be celebrating better times lived out, but yearning more for the vivid and palpable “offline” experience — new experience. I sometimes find myself intoxicated when relishing past memories, so much so that it can feel like I’m cheating on the present.

“Moderation is best in all things,” Greek poet Hesiod once said. A stoic virtue, moderation is the concept that steers clear of excess and overindulgence. If we completely disregard our past, we somehow dishonor all the experiences that shaped who we are today; on the flip side, when one finds themselves investing in nostalgia too much, perhaps to an unhealthy and crippling extent, the sensible thing to do is to stop and to let go — either by staying present or by looking forward.

Not only can resharing old posts rob you of the enjoyment of the day, but it can also rob you of truly living in the present, however nebulous that concept seems these days.

Today is like a perpetual present, one that isn’t entirely pleasant. The concept of time has become devoid of meaning during the pandemic, mutating into an abstract notion that seems to stretch endlessly. Therefore, we do what we can to break free from it, however vicarious the means may be.

Gratifying, yet with hints of melancholy, time traveling is indeed a tricky business. The momentary pleasures it offers can be soothing and sweet, but yielding to it too often can be addicting or even masochistic.

Reliving old memories, staying present, and fast forwarding into the future are all methods of stang afloat — perhaps what we need is the right balance that makes us feel content and hopeful.

By being mindful and aware of our actions, we can make guided decisions on what works and doesn’t work for us. What’s important is that we don’t allow ourselves to be shackled to the past and to be helplessly worried about what lies head, and that we keep on keeping on, whatever our means may be.