Tech talismans and commonplace nostalgia

a digital sketch of a point-and-shoot camera

Last time, I wrote about my fascination with a late 2000s "what's in my bag" photograph I stumbled across on Pinterest. The everyday objects that a stranger carried around made me feel such a strong sense of nostalgia that I ended up scouring Pinterest for more images of the contents of folks' bags from 2012 and before.

As you might guess, Pinterest has an algorithm that feeds you more of the sorts of content you've been pinning, so the more images I pinned, the more similar stuff it showed me.

But I quickly found something pretty interesting: there were "what's in my bag" TikTok screenshots and aesthetic shots from the last couple years. And they contained some objects that I would've expected to show up only in older photos.

I began scrutinizing photos, looking for the clues that might suggest their age.

The easiest tells for something being from the past few years were good image quality, artistically laid out items, and the presence of Fjallraven backpacks, film cameras, Apple EarPods (rather than the round 2001-2012 style of headphone that came with iPods), AirPods, and, of course, smartphones. (Obviously smartphones were around in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but those early models are distinctive and easy to distinguish from more recent ones.)

I'm not really on TikTok, but I get the sense that a lot of the "what's in my bag" TikTok screenshots were posted by teenagers. One giveaway? The presence of point-and-shoot digital cameras. As far as I can tell, it seems like digital cameras are having a comeback among Gen Z.

I've written before about my fondness for point-and-shoot digital cameras and the evident popularity they've gained on certain parts of photography YouTube, but I hadn't realized that that enthusiasm actually seems to exist in the real world. That is, until the other day when I was at a farmer's market feeling conspicuous using my point-and-shoot and then I saw a teenager pull out their point-and-shoot and start using it like it was 2007.

Then when I saw these recent "what's in my bag" screengrabs on Pinterest and spotted point-and-shoot digital cameras in almost all of them, that really tickled me. Ditto when I spotted iPods.

When I'd originally set out to look for images of people's everyday carry items from a decade-plus ago, I'd thought I could just keep an eye out for old digital cameras and iPods.

But it seems like Gen Z folks have raided their parents' stashes of old tech (or possibly thrift stores) and have taken these long-neglected items out for a spin. I even spotted a number of Canon Powershot G7 X cameras, which just so happens to be the exact model of camera I've been (completely unironically) using for the better part of a decade.

I think this is great; I'm all for reducing e-waste. I know that Y2K fashion has been in for a while, but it's fascinating to see tech come back around.

I remember when people were thrilled to trade their film cameras for "superior" point-and-shoot digital cameras, and when anyone serious about photography used DSLRs rather than point-and-shoots (and now folks have upgraded to mirrorless cameras). And everyone else settled for their smartphone because most modern smartphones (though not any I've owned) apparently take better shots than digital point-and-shoots.

With tech, there's usually a linear narrative of things improving and tech becoming e-waste as soon as it's deemed "obsolete." I remember back in the early 2010s when millennials provoked the ire of at least some other generations because of our enthusiasm for analog tech like record players, film and instant cameras, and cassette tapes. So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Gen Z has resurrected point-and-shoots and iPods.

Of course, I'm making plenty of assumptions here. (But it seems that at least some journalists have also commented on this as a Gen Z trend.) I don't really like talking in broad strokes about generations, because it's a silly and inaccurate (though sometimes expedient!) way to discuss people. Also, for all I know, maybe these contemporary "what's in my bag" shots with iPods and point-and-shoots are people my age who have brought our own old devices out of hibernation.

After all, as an avid viewer of nostalgic tech YouTube channels like Cathode Ray Dude and DankPods, I'm obviously enthusiastic about "obsolete" and defunct tech. My best guess is that a variety of people of various ages are into old tech like point-and-shoot digital cameras, though it's probably weighed a bit more heavily among teenagers and folks in their early 20s. But who knows?

I've written extensively about the nostalgia and anemoia that people seem to have for single-purpose tech (mostly in the context of paranormal investigation tech, but I think it's true across the board.)

In the last post, I compared the objects that we carry with us to talismans. The photograph that I talked about yesterday contained plenty of stuff that I feel nostalgic about today, in the year of our lord 2023, but nothing that I would have felt nostalgia for in 2009. Digital cameras, iPods, and proto-smartphones were state-of-the-art tech then. So what does it mean that people now present their everyday carry items as collections of both practical items and nostalgic old tech?