As this semester comes to an end, I’ve noticed a shift. Of course, being home limits activities and for those of us lucky enough to have some free time amidst this chaos, there has been an upswing in media consumption. But beyond that, there has been an emphasis on things from our childhood. Perhaps it is a longing for simpler times, or a reflection of our fear of the future. Whatever it may be, many people I know have not only gone back to consuming TV and movies from their middle and high school days, but websites that were big for the now college-aged kids in our middle school years have made comebacks during the shutdown.
Webkinz, which was still running before the shutdown, offered a month of free deluxe membership in March. Club Penguin was rebooted for the shutdown and has allowed all penguins free membership for now. College-aged kids have returned in droves to these websites, creating a juxtaposition of the returning members and the younger audience who was already there. It has also become a place where people spread misinformation about the pandemic and discuss politics, contrasting the conversations of puffles and memes. It’s a sort of jarring discrepancy.
And this is much bigger than just college kids playing old internet games; NPR released an article on April 15 about coronavirus and nostalgia. The article referenced a Nielsen Music study that “concluded that more than half of consumers today seek comfort in familiar music and television shows.” Interviews from the article suggest an ease of familiarity with certain games, music or movies—as it can take too much effort to find and digest new media—and also how technology can remind us of simpler times.
I wrote an article a while back about nostalgia. Specifically, I discussed how an overwhelming change of technology and culture made people born between the millennial and Generation Z generations desire to return to simpler times. And now, the entire world is in a state of disarray. While nostalgia is really a minor point in the midst of this pandemic, it’s something that most of us are experiencing.
And even more than that is a specific sort of nostalgic juxtaposition that has come for those of us still living on or near campus. I don’t live on campus, but talking to my few friends who are still there, the hollow reminders of moved-out roommates and suitemates, as well as the lingering memories of bustling common areas and trips to the dining halls, have made dorm life even more stagnant and still then expected. Living in the same place where all those things used to happen instills a sort of nostalgia for that time, though unlike queuing up movies from your childhood, it’s unobtainable.
I took a walk around Northside the other day, and I stopped in the area between Storrs and Pierce Houses, reflecting on all of the times I had stood in that exact spot. During my first year, it was to wait for my friends, go to rehearsal, see a concert or just to go to dinner. My third year, I stood there waiting to drop off things the first years had left at rehearsals or to visit them on weeknights. And now, senior year, I stood there in the complete silence of an empty college campus.
It was different from the loneliness of being alone in my apartment off-campus, reminiscing on old memories or wishing my last few weeks of school had been different and everyone had stayed healthy. It was different from the weirdness of walking to Constantino’s Market right after the closure of school had been announced and hugging my friend in the dairy aisle.
In the next few weeks, as my time as a college student draws to a close, I think I will become more and more nostalgic for the hope and excitement of semesters before in the face of missed opportunities and international strife. I think we all will be.
So, sure, I go on Club Penguin to remember how simple everything was when I was playing on my home computer in middle school. But even two months ago seems so innocent and far away from now, that a walk around campus can instill the same feeling of longing.