Social media nostalgia: 10 years of research finds people seek content that triggers memories

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — The ever-evolving landscape of social media has not only transformed the way we communicate but has also given rise to a deep sense of nostalgia and the desire to preserve our memories. Researchers from the University of Gothenburg and University West in Sweden followed 11 active social media users over the course of a decade, offering a unique perspective on how these platforms have been used to document and share life experiences.

Through this research, valuable insights have emerged about the pivotal role of technology in shaping our memories and the way we revisit significant moments.

“These types of studies help us look back and understand the culture as it was in the 2010s and 2020s when social media was a central part of it,” says study author Beata Jungselius, senior lecturer of informatics at University West, in a university release.

The study identified a phenomenon known as “social media nostalgizing,” in which users actively seek out content that triggers feelings of nostalgia. Alexandra Weilenmann, a professor of interaction design at the University of Gothenburg, explains that participants in the study referred to this behavior as “treating themselves” to a nostalgic journey from time to time.

Going back and remembering what has happened earlier in life becomes a bigger part of it over time than posting new content,” says Weilenmann.

social media pictures
(Photo by Plann from Pexels)

Furthermore, researchers observed that these platforms have evolved into diary-like tools that allow users to relive cherished memories.

Social media platforms have responded to this trend by introducing advanced features that enable users to engage with older content. Features such as personalized photo albums infused with music or reminders of photos posted on the same date in previous years have facilitated nostalgic experiences, often viewed positively. Additionally, these features have enabled users to reconnect with old friends by “tagging” them in shared memories.

Researchers suggest that this strategy by social media platforms may be intentional, as it encourages users to remain active on these platforms, particularly as the creation of new content has declined.

However, the study reveals that it’s not just the content itself that elicits feelings of nostalgia; memories associated with the actual use of social media also play a significant role. For instance, one interviewee fondly reminisces about the rewarding experience of intense communication in online forums, which often led to real-life meetings and interactions.

“It’s only now that we’ve lived with social media long enough to make and draw conclusions from a study like this,” notes Jungselius. “Through our method of studying the same users over ten years, we’ve been able to follow how their usage and attitudes toward the platforms have changed as they have evolved.”

The study is published in the journal Social Media + Society.

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