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Since advent of the Gregorian calendar, human memory has been cataloged by years. Birthdays, anniversaries, first year, last year, new year – our brains naturally seem to pull things together into 365-day chunks. In general, looking back is a seductive affair, a reminder of how far we’ve come, even if touched with grief for lost loves or forgotten hobbies. This week, however, things are different. This week is a reminder of the days when everything changed.
Yesterday the world marked the first birthday of the World Health Organization declaring Covid-19 a global pandemic. But the whole week has been marked by the memories of the last: the last time someone went to a basketball game, a movie, a restaurant. The last day at the office, the last time they kissed their mom or went out without covering their faces. The technology is designed to remind us of these things: Timehop, the random photos your iPhone surfaces, your memories on Facebook. Earlier this week, Instagram prompted me, “See your post from two years ago today,” and I remembered seeing Robyn at Madison Square Garden. I burst into tears at the thought of singing with 20,000 sweaty strangers – and this show came nine months before I knew what a new coronavirus was.
We also do it to ourselves. Over the past seven days, my timelines – and probably everywhere – have been filled with memories of people from where they were when, say, they heard the NBA was closing, or the journey was getting bigger and bigger. dangerous. There’s even a new Twitter thread dedicated to this: @YearCovid, which is dedicated to “broadcast live the covid pandemic as it occurred on that date in 2020.” Following the story means receiving semi-frequent news reminders and social media reactions on any given day in 2020. If you started to feel like there weren’t any. sufficient reminders of how much your life has changed, this flow will solve that.
Nostalgia is tricky that way. Definition it means homesickness, or “a nostalgic or overly sentimental desire to return to a past period or an irremediable condition.” But, when you talk about an illness that has killed loved ones and shattered the traditions of the world, the expression “irremediable state” becomes even more inconceivable. Normally, when you’re nostalgic for your youth, it’s always possible to visit childhood friends or release old albums. What is happening now is more of a yearning for what happened before Covid-19, not how long it took us.
Portuguese actually has a better word for the latter: Miss. It’s hard to find an individual translation, but it usually means a deep yearning for something that’s missing, almost a longing for something you’ve never experienced. WIRED writer Sofia Barnett talked about it a few months ago in her essay on the death of FOMO. We are no longer afraid of missing an evening with friends or a family reunion. Instead, people collectively mourn a year when these events barely happened. Now, like everything else during the pandemic, we are sharing this online. This is, it seems, the feeling that prevails at the moment: to have pain in what was lost, but also in what could have been lost.
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