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  • Francesca Pietkiewicz

Help! I’m Considering Time Travelling Back to the 2010s

Words by Francesca Pietkiewicz (she/they)

CW: Disordered Eating.

2000’s nostagliacore is all over my FYP. Soft-grunge 2014 Tumblr is resurfacing. I’m going on Sylvanian shopping trips. It feels like my brain has been wired back to the past.

For the first time since I was 16, I’m off birth control. Maybe this #tbtthursday is more like a freaky friday with my teenage self. 

The 2010s were my teens. Like any bullied-child-turned-awkward-teen, I was chronically online. I was a Youtube and Vine obsessed tween who reblogged Nike Free Runs, Starbucks drinks we didn’t have in Aotearoa, and read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I leaned far into anime obsessions and became an Animal Crossing playing, budget Lolita weeaboo. A couple of months into being 14, I flipped the switch, declaring all my past selves as undeniably cringe, and dived into my Van Gogh, sock-wearing, mustard-yellow-Kanken-bag-obsessed, art-hoe era. Not forgetting a tiny K-pop phase in between, once I was 15, I reset back to indie-alty Tumblr and Mac DeMarco, and masked a lack of self confidence with music pretentiousness.

I never thought my mid-teens, riddled with insecurity, would seem so sparkly rose-tinted in reminiscence. But living in 2023 has got me there. A part of me wishes I was 15 and awkward again: a time before balancing rent, work, and personal life. It was an era that I described in my diary as being “wasted” because I hadn’t been in a relationship yet and I wasn’t going to enough parties. I’ve dyed my hair back to the colour it was when I first dyed my hair. I’m listening to almost exclusively midwestern emo and indie grooves. Believe it or not, I’ve even made a new Tumblr account. Why does taking an Alice in Wonderland-type-edible to transport me back to my teens seem so tasty right now?

Humans often experience nostalgia in times of solitude or transition, and I’m experiencing both.I’m burnt-out to a crisp, trying to stay sane and apply for my Master’s while finishing up my editorship. . 

It’s not just me. The 2020s are a wack time to be in your 20s—it’s no wonder Gen Z is ready to get jiggy with our cringe cinnamon-challenge past all over again. We’ve experienced technology costing us jobs, a climate crisis, and a global pandemic. Here in Aotearoa, we’re in a housing crisis and a $7 cucumber isn’t unheard of. Our lifetimes have been fraught with social change. 

“I think it’s no secret that the younger generations, and Gen-Z much more so than my own, have been asked to bear the burdens of change much more so than previous ones,” says School of Languages and Cultures Lecturer Charles Rice-Davis. It makes sense we’d be wanting to grasp onto memories of a seemingly simpler time. 

Let’s hop on every 2000s kid’s favourite form of public transport—The Magic School Bus—and learn a little bit about the origins of ‘nostalgia’. Nostalgia first became a “widespread concern” around the French Revolution. “[The 17th century was a time of] tremendous social change and upheaval. […] There were recognised epidemic outbreaks of nostalgia. This also was the point where people start to talk about a ‘nostalgia’, not just for a place, but a time—for a world that no longer exists, […] [for] familiar surroundings or a yearning for a past that was a simpler, more secure time,” Charles says. 

When we think of nostalgia, we think of youth, particularly coming of age: the initial independence we experience in our teens and 20s. Charles informed me nostalgia was first coined in 1688 by a 19-year-old university student named Johannes Hofer. The word ‘nostalgia’ is derived from the Greek words notos, or homesickness and algos, pain.

“The English phrase ‘homesickness’ had to be invented to translate ‘nostalgia’,” Charles told me. Johannes’ studies examined young, Swiss, working immigrants, and categorised their depressive symptoms—like not being able to “get out of bed”—as nostalgia, which was then considered to be a mental disorder. “Today, we might call them homesick or depressed, but those words hadn’t been invented yet, and doctors weren’t sure if anyone could get this disease, or just Swiss, [but] Nostalgia was considered extremely serious, deadly even,” Charles says. 

In her article ‘I re-read my teenage diaries hoping for a dose of nostalgia—instead I was horrified’, published in The Guardian, Amelia Tait speaks to the misleading sparkle of coming-of-age films. “I love to see the magic of girlhood represented in coming-of-age movies such as Lady Bird…but [when] I look back at my own adolescent self and see a floundering fish who hurt and was hurt, with little meaning or beauty,” Amelia writes. 

Nostalgia has a deceptive lure. Oten, we only connect with our memories at surface value. We can get lost in the past and edit out the pain. “My piece didn’t really make me feel nostalgic for being a teenager itself, but more for things like MSN. I suppose I felt a little nostalgic for that teenage excitement of fancying people, but then the diaries were so raw that I could see that overall none of it was especially pleasant. I cried to read my old pain—I didn’t expect to, but I sobbed and sobbed when I got to my eating disorder passages,” Amelia said. 

I relate to Amelia’s experience—I’m nostalgic for the innocence and the simplicity of high school life. I miss knowing dinner would be cooked for me, and not worrying about the price of cereal. When I listen to my 2016 Top Songs playlist, I block out the fact that was the year I swapped out meals for iced Americanos. 

The uncanny thing about the Gen Z nostalgic experience is the way the digital age shaped our upbringings. I’ve often described my Instagram as a curated scrapbook. Amelia shared a similar view. “I like to scroll back through my Instagram because it feels like a catalogue of my life,” she says. With computers, phones, social media accounts, and chat history, we can keep time capsules and review how we grew up. Since I was about 6, I’ve kept an inconsistent physical diary, but my childhood imagery is captured on Windows Movie Maker and iMovie. I have Photo Booth compilations from my teens, filled with content of me studying, crying, or hanging out with friends. Watching them feels like I’ve rented a time machine.

For Pōneke author Joy Holley, the sense of anticipatory nostalgia, or being “aware of creating a memory”, was an inspiration for her book of short stories, Dream Girl. “Gen Z and late millennials feel this anticipatory nostalgia when we take photos or make playlists. My friends and I have got really into voice messages over the past year, and I think they will be the most insane thing to listen back on in the future,” she says.

I think the 2000s were the perfect time to be a child. Everything was plastic, glossy, and glittery. We were in the first digital age, exploring everything artificial from the unsettling animation in kids’ TV to the highly sweetened and hyper coloured kids’ food. I feel blessed to have experienced the original, sickly sweet, teeth pulling fruit roll ups before they were banned here. I love that Y2K styles are still popular and that my favourite childhood toy Littlest Pet Shop has popped up on my social media in the form of an affirmation post. 

In a time where Gen Z is independent and has a smidgen of their own money, capitalism is profiting off our urge to escape into the secure aspects of our youth. “This isn’t nostalgic escapism—it’s nostalgic capitalism. Companies are trying to pretend they can sell us a feeling; they can’t. If you buy a Sylvanian now, it’s not going to feel the same. […] I think nostalgia is best when it is internal, and the rise of nostalgic movies, trends, and products does worry me. We need to look forward as a society!” Amelia says. 


I think that letting our past selves take charge of our wallet to honour self care is sometimes okay. Well, at least, VUW Professor of Psychology Karen Salmon reassured me it was. “I can see how that if it was done with an attitude of ‘things were a bit tough with me, for me when I was a child, but now I'm thinking about how I can live my best life’ […] [then] sounds like quite a positive thing if it was done with a view to the person caring for themselves,” she says. 

Since I entered my 20s, I’ve been nicer to myself about embracing things that in my late teens I deemed childish. I have a row of plushies on my bed and I’m currently re-watching Adventure Time. I’ve embraced my neurodivergence and bought fidget toys. I feel like my inner child is smiling. 

We have to make the call for ourselves, and know we’re allowed to soothe our inner children. Charles reiterates this, “I think nostalgic artefacts which can provide reminders of simpler times can be soothing for all of us, can give us that general sense of feeling ‘at home’. For a generation that uniquely lacks these basic forms of security, it makes sense that there might be a greater demand for that secure feeling.”. 

We need to acknowledge that when we’re nostalgic, we don’t actually want to go back to the past: we are just looking for comfort. Our inner children are overwhelmed by the unforeseen crises that our generation is bearing. 

Karen says looking back in a positive way can help with “developing resourcefulness”. Our generation, unlike any before us, needs resourcefulness and safe distance to consider the challenges we face in the future. We need to remember that we’re capable, and creating a good relationship with our past selves is one way to do this.

For now, I’m stepping off this magic school bus to find my Littlest Pet Shop collection and journal about how little it helped get me where I am today. Maybe it’ll help with my confidence for writing my Master’s application, maybe it will just be fun. 


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