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Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia

We refer to “in the past” as “last time” in Singlish. For example, last time policemen wore shorts [1] [2]. 

When change knocks at (or knocks down) the door, some people retreat to the nostalgia of the past. Things seem better then because people have selective memories.

The past is not necessarily always better. One of the best ways to see this is to examine the evolution of technologies we take for granted now. 

The tweet above highlighted how a 20MB “portable” drive was the size of a backpack. Today we can carry 256GB in a microSD card, which is the size and thickness of a fingernail. 

One might argue that the vast increase in capacity also means carrying around more work to complete. This argument ignores how the technological affordance creates more opportunities, e.g., being able to record longer and better quality videos. It also sidesteps how the past had its own problems.

I have nothing against looking back provided that we do this to learn from history, reflect critically on practice, or laugh at bad haircuts. But it is a crippling mindset when all you can see and say is last time.

While the tweet above might be tongue-in-cheek, it sends more than one signal.

The intended message might be that playing cooperative games by mashing a single desktop keyboard was more fun than having your own mobile device.

The messages the tweet misses are that the players with their own mobile devices are a) also cooperating, b) can potentially cooperate in larger numbers, and c) can do so anywhere there is a reliable Internet connection.

Nostalgia does not just colour our memories, it can sometimes blind action. If anyone looks back so fondly in the past and remains rooted there, I would not rely on them to work on problems today or build towards the future.

For me, this is a reminder that it is not enough to evaluate people based on their knowledge or skills. It is just as important to gauge their mindsets.

The latest Build For Tomorrow podcast episode explored how nostalgia might colour our collective memories of the current pandemic.

The podcast host explained how some of us already look back fondly at behavioural changes during lockdown and loathe to return to “normal”, e.g., not commuting to work, spending more time with family. 

He then explored why we might remember the good things about bad events and forget (or play down) what made them terrible. By interviewing experts on memory and cognition, the host explained that our memories do not operate like a film reel played back with original fidelity. Our minds simply do not and cannot capture every thing. 

Our memories are like fragments of an experience and we fill in the blanks with our imagination. We do this every time we try to remember something and relate that memory to someone else. The experts also explained how remembering the positive might be a coping, survival, or learning mechanism. 

It was fascinating to realise how little we know about memory. We work more on assumption of how we remember rather than on established fact because the latter is barely there. This podcast episode could challenge the assumptions of anyone who teaches, counsels, or records witness accounts.

As an educator, our fragmented recall strategy reminds me of why it is important to challenge learners to discuss ideas and teach one another. What one remembers is not the same as another learner’s, and peer teaching is a way for small groups of students to triangulate what they learn.

We are approaching that time of year when people reminisce and project.

How many of us realise that we look back through coloured lenses? How many admit that we look forward through a thick fog?

This is not to say that doing either is wrong or pointless. It does mean that we recognise our limited vision.

How much more value could I bring to a tweet like that?

Maybe something I have shared before.

Nostalgia is like grammar. It makes the past perfect and the present tense.

Perhaps a critique of the thumb drive that is supposed to be where “our students are”. Students might just thumb those drives because even these are losing relevance.


It must have been a slow news day for a newspaper to report that a diseased Angsana tree will be cut down tomorrow.

I am all for preservation if it makes sense, but not if it is based on unreasonable nostalgia.

Here is what should makes sense: The Angsana

  • was introduced to Singapore more than 40 years ago
  • is a non-native species
  • has branches that are prone to breaking off

The tree in question is outside a school that moved to its premises in 2010. The school co-opted the tree as a feature in its city campus.

However, the tree now has a hollow and diseased trunk. The authorities tried incorporating safety cables, but potential danger the tree presents is not worth the risk. This us why it will be cut down.

To its credit, the school took the opportunity to organise an event yesterday for students to commemorate the tree before it becomes a stump.

Nostalgia is like grammar. It makes the past perfect and the present tense.

Taking a step back, it should be obvious that logic overruled nostalgia in the case of the Angsana.

If teachers in any school take a step back, might they let nostalgia rule over logic, research, or change? I am talking about the nostalgia that overlooks the harm and romanticises the good; everything new is bad while all things old are good.

Saying that a thing or a practice “was always just there” or “always done that way” is not good reason enough to keep it. The rats and roaches hiding in your school walls were always there and they were normally ignored.

Now I am not referring to the traditional practices that might still be relevant or even powerful. I am referring to the pesky practices that you cannot see or do not question because they are insidious. Things like extrinsic rewards, mindless homework, subject silos, the test above all else, the irrational fear of technology, etc.

If those cease to be relevant, are ineffective, or are otherwise harmful, why keep them in the name of nostalgia?

Earlier this week, I read about Nokia’s second swing of the bat with re-re-released 3310.

No, I did not have a spasm. Earlier this year, Nokia released a version of the 3310 based on the meme-worthy but defunct 3310.

This re-released version was updated for the early 21st century with colourful bodies and colour screens. However, it only supported 2.5G, which countries like Singapore phased out.

So Nokia will be releasing a 3310 3G model in October. They do this at a time when 4G is the norm and the rest of the world is looking forward to 5G.

The feature phone will be cheaper than current phones. It will have excellent battery life and it might be as indestructible as the original 3310.

Nostalgia is like grammar. It makes the past perfect and the present tense.

But Nokia is banking on the nostalgic, the collectors, and cheapskates (by choice or circumstance) to buy these phones. If it keeps trying to play catch up with a rapidly moving vehicle, it is going to be left behind again.

Yes, again. It did not take the smartphone movement seriously and plummeted off the market share chart. The world of commerce is cruel that way. The effects of a bad habit or a stubborn decision are felt quickly.

This is not the case in schooling and education where consequences of policies are felt decades or generations later. Right now we still have teachers with 3310 mindsets trying to operate in a 4G world. They do so by reshaping the new world to the old one that they are more comfortable with.

The problem with nostalgia is not just trying to live in the “good old days”. It is forcing the present to conform to the past. This results in complaints of the disconnected classroom and rhetorical calls to make schooling more authentic or “real world”.

The tension that teachers, students, and other stakeholders of schooling feel is a real one. The disconnect is exemplified by how most students are not allowed to use their phones in lessons and tests. In the “real world” we rely on our phones for both.

Such a tension has its roots in nostalgia and stubbornness. Such mindsets will not change with training or professional development that focuses on knowledge or skills. A mindset problem requires mindset solutions. All these solutions need to be built on this foundation.

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.

One of my favourite sayings is: Nostalgia is like grammar. It makes the past perfect and the present tense.

Eight years ago this week, I had a freshly minted Ph.D. and was getting ready to start my journey as a faculty member of a university.

Fast forward to this week and I was clearing out my office and looking forward to the next phase of my journey.

I am a selective packrat when it comes to keeping things of sentimental value. I brought all my Ph.D. notes and dissertation documents with me from the USA. The photo below shows what a Ph.D. might look like only in terms of files and necessary documents.

I attached a lot of nostalgia to these inanimate objects even though they served no practical purpose. I never referred to them when I returned to Singapore and they took up space in a cupboard. But they helped me remember the arduous doctoral journey and my life overseas.

Now I have this digital photo to help me wax nostalgic. The files and other items are now in a recycling skip. I hope that my recycled material helps someone else make their own memories.

I have forged more experiences and memories over the last eight years and I have photographed quite a few of them. I plan on being less of a packrat in future. It is surprising what builds up over time when you take the time to look. It is almost as surprising how easy it is to get rid of artefacts that are not important.

Now I have to get rid of my conference lanyards and noticeboard paraphernalia…

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