Living in the past, it’s a new generation: “We are all Generation Z”
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As long as time machines haven’t been invented yet, we can only (re)live the past through feelings of nostalgia. Many have tried to understand how nostalgia plays a crucial part in our lives. However, many studies focus on nostalgia experienced by middle-aged individuals and the elderly only since nostalgia-proneness has been hypothesized to peak as individuals move into middle age and during the retirement years. The current study questions this assumption and stresses that it is necessary to include young nostalgics in research since we can observe Generation Z longing for objects and experiences outside their lived past on video-sharing app TikTok specifically. This yearning for an indirectly experienced past by Generation Z, referred to as vicarious nostalgia, forms the basis of this study. Through textual, semiotic analysis of three popular TikTok videos showcasing vicarious nostalgia and online semi-structured interviews with six respondents aged 18-24 with a passion for the past, this study examines how the technological and cultural affordances of TikTok play a role in showcasing vicarious nostalgia and how Generation Z gives meaning to their nostalgic tendencies. Findings indicate that TikTok videos with nostalgic content can function as screen memories, showcasing positive, often recreated footage of times passed. The short duration of this sweet representation of the past resembles a fleeting memory, triggering nostalgia and making Generation Z long for more, similar content. The algorithmic, short videos are easily spread and archived, fit the current zeitgeist, and result in a nostalgia boom. As Generation Z are in their formative years, they construct their self-identity and experience a community feeling on TikTok. Findings further indicate that leveling criticism against new media is not only a trait of older generations: just like parents’ nostalgia becomes their children’s nostalgia, Generation Z seems to have taken over their parents’ cultural pessimism. Although Generation Z longs for the past as they believe people used to live in the moment with fewer sensory stimuli, they put things into perspective: the present is both a curse and a blessing marked by the pressure yet possibilities of the internet and the Covid-19 pandemic which they go through together, armed with nostalgic content at their fingertips to resort to: “We are all Generation Z”.