As day temperatures start consistently rising, and daylight extends beyond 5:30 pm, social media becomes monomaniacally obsessed with one thing: Europe.

A café with a patio with tables and chairs facing towards the street? That’s European. Does a square host a farmer’s market on a Sunday? That’s European. The summer dress you’re eyeing? It’s made of “European” linen. Are you riding your bike to commute?

Why, that’s European!

In this view, the welfare of Scandinavia, the bike lanes of Amsterdam, the efficiency of Germany, the sensuality of the French new wave, and the epicurean feasts of the Mediterranean exist in one algorithmically-generated nowhere-land. After observing this fantasy for years, and after watching a lengthy video essay detailing the monoculture of historical Europe in 1960s and 70s anime and manga, I realized that very little of this is about a place.

It’s actually about a time.

‘Timelessness’ is Stasis

“Europe is treated as a changeless Ruritania,” wrote Cobus van Staden in the Spring 2009 newsletter CyberAsia. “The use of historically European detailing and landscapes designates the setting as ‘beautifully past.”. Van Staten was talking about anime and manga, though the point can easily apply to culture in 2024.

It’s a variation on the theme of nostalgia, which has become the monoculture in music, TV, film, fashion, and consumer goods. For many, the ‘old country,’ (its marketplaces, customs, architecture, and aesthetics) represent both a method of discovery and an escape from the mundane. Curiously, we experience this wanderlust through the lens of commerce; a continent existing for our emotional enrichment. are nostalgic extends to all forms of ingestion— music, drinks, decor, fashion, food—even the interface of our web browser and apps— all consumption, content, or commerce, seems to embody a relic of a past era. Digital interfaces don’t need Corinthian columns, but we don’t think too deeply about that, do we?

Modern seminal texts on nostalgia have been published. Tobias Becker’s Yesterday, Agnes Arnold-Forster’s Nostalgia: A History of a Dangerous Emotion, and the forthcoming The Routledge Handbook of Nostalgia, edited by Becker and Dylan Trigg; all examine how nostalgia has established itself as an area of intense interest across several disciplines as well as within society and culture more generally.

On TikTok, the Nostalgia channel has 214M posts, and the likes number in the billions.

Trend reports have pegged nostalgia as a quintessentially Gen Z phenomenon. Undoubtedly, having sizable chunks of formative years spent within the confines of digital interfaces made them focus on a more ‘culturally rich’ past rather than the present. In addition, Gen Z is the first generation of digital natives, and growing up amidst the glow of a screen translates into access to the documentation of trends of recent pasts, which the internet is quite rich in.

The modern embodiment of the ‘past’ as a consumable becomes a lifestyle as a whole, rather than those aesthetics primarily rooted in fashion. “Some of our Gen Z-founded clients have felt anchored by the 2000s. It evokes a sense of comfort and euphoria, and every reference point means something,” the creative agency The Digital Fairy told The Creative Review in an interview.

Top: co-opts digital interface aesthetics from the recent past

Yearnst and Young

On social media platforms, people are yearning for the year 2014. “If I had to sum that all up, I’d say people just miss having fun, and Tumblr was a lot of fun,” said Gabi Abrão, a writer, and digital creator, told NBC News. “People haven’t been having fun online for a while. It’s like a job for everyone. You don’t even have to be trying to be famous, and it feels like a job for people.”

“A trend has emerged on TikTok around the summer of 2014, with young people posting clips drenched in sepia-toned filters set to music from the 2010s, reminiscing about simpler days gone by,” observed Casey Lewis from After School Newsletter on April 8.

For the sake of consumer culture, let’s accept the 1970s because that’s when nostalgia drastically departs from antiquarianism. In the 1970s, we started seeing a mainstream fascination with fads that occurred within LIVING MEMORY. In fashion, the first glaring example is the 1971 collection by Yves Saint Laurent, also called the ‘scandal collection,’ which, in sheer contrast to the main trends of the decade, decided to openly reference the 1940s aesthetic, especially the one that characterized France during the Nazi occupation.

Pictured: digital interface nostalgia is inter-generational. Above: an AIM login interface circa 1998. Below: the Tumblr aesthetic circa 2014 (image credit: Michael Kearney via Stony Brook Press)

The muse was Paloma Picasso, who had been quite fond of shopping for second-hand clothes in flea markets, especially the ones that even her own mother would deem dowdy. It was a nod to a type of counterculture.

Retro, therefore, did not begin with haute couture and fashion designers but with young women who, rejecting both designer and mass-produced fashion, experimented with affordable second-hand clothes,” writes Becker in Yesterday. In the 1970s, nostalgia was everywhere again, to the point that it had become a fad. Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock talks about “a wave of nostalgia,” and, in 1974, The New York Times reported on a “massive wave of nostalgia.” The 70s were known as “second-hand 70s”. Wholesome diets of yesteryear were contrasted with the artificial foods and pollution of modern society.

Progressive Nostalgia in Media

It was glaring in the film industry: the Broadway show Grease and its subsequent film adaptation from 1978 teetered between starry-eyed nostalgia with its bubblegum-like soundtrack and, depending on who you ask, camp parody.

George Lucas’s American Graffiti, set in 1962, became the first American film entirely to rely on preexisting songs, which added much to its style, period feel, and success. It inspired the long-running, 50s-themed sitcom Happy Days. 1987’s Dirty Dancing combines early 1960s aesthetics and a soundtrack juxtaposing 60s repertoire and 80s synths—but opens with a monologue uttered to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” that is a hymn to nostalgia, portraying an idyllic mindset.

“It was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me Baby and it didn't occur to me to mind. It was before Kennedy got shot, before The Beatles, when I wanted to join the Peace Corps, and I didn't think I'd ever find a guy as great as my dad,” Baby Houseman, Dirty Dancing

In today’s consumer culture, the nostalgic monoculture is also due to economic factors.

“Nostalgia towards a past ‘good life’ has become the zeitgeist of the present times,” writes Alessandro Gerosa in Hipster Economy. “Younger generations tend to express a form of ‘progressive nostalgia,’ not towards Fordism but for a mythical pre-industrial era. This progressive nostalgia is expressed through the search for authenticity in every aspect of life and the ultimate goal to find some way to live a ‘good life’ in the interstices of the post-industrial society”

Pictured: The Pepsi Generation ad campaign of 1963

Gerosa points towards the 1963 campaign launched by Pepsi, namely ‘Pepsi Generation,’ a bold branding campaign aimed at gaining terrain against Coca-Cola: the strategy focused on framing Pepsi consumption as a feature of a young, rebellious, and cool lifestyle. In 2001, a restaging of all the commercials celebrated the ‘Pepsi generations’ themselves: riding the first signs of a nostalgia wave, too, Pepsi claimed to be the drink of every generation of cool, hip rebels.

In all, nostalgia is about creating comfort. “Nostalgia and looking to the past will always be considered in forecasting, especially in an age of climate anxiety and the cost of living, where people seek comfort, security, and familiarity,” reflected WGSN’s Global Head of Color Urangoo Samba on WGSN’s Create Tomorrow podcast.

Pictured: ‘Pepsi Generations’ revival campaign from 2018 embodies internal brand nostalgia

Comfort and euphoria also emerge in CPG design, tackling consumers’ own childhood, a mood rather than a specific decade. If you look at the redesign of Murray’s Cheese, the creative direction of the Italian confectionery brand Pastiglie Leone, and even the not-so-storied brands Fishwife and S’Noods, you’ll notice that they are actively channeling a sense of childlike wonder: thick line drawings of more-or-less anthropomorphized cheeses and noodles scream mid-century rubber hose animation, while Pastiglie Leone’s steampunk candy factory seems to be lifted from Disney’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“And actually, at WGSN, we were looking into the term anemoia, meaning a nostalgic sense of longing for a past you yourself have never lived,” Samba continued.

I am guilty of this myself: when I was a journalist, I found every possible excuse to write about old stuff, and now I have a newsletter on disco music. Even as I am writing this, I am reveling in the meta-contemplation of the past in order to understand nostalgia. 

Analytical minds are prone to being conditioned by nostalgia because they’re naturally inclined to seek out patterns. This is nothing new: think of all the traditions that had a cyclical rather than linear view of history. We’re still using archetypes to categorize creators and brands.

Future Nostalgia

Eventually, too much of that will, undoubtedly, breed new ground for innovation, just like the visually less-pleasant avant-garde movements made the comfort and harmony of academic art feel stodgy and borderline kitschy. Not to go all Ouroboros about it, but one can look at the way Stravinsky and Nijinski decided to shock the theatergoers in Paris when, in 1913, they premiered the Dionysian Rite of Spring.

That is until disrupting cultural products will eventually return to being perceived as quaint, thus signaling the beginning of a new cycle. Stravinsky ditched his intentionally cacophonic and revolutionary experimentations after the war, reverting to a solemn form of classicism. So far, it seems that the only way to escape the plush handcuffs of nostalgia is to pull your head out of your own ass for a bit, or as people more refined than me say, look outwards.

While we repair in the comfort of the past, the world keeps turning and decaying. On that note, “Transformative Teal” appears to be the color of 2026 according to WGSN’s sister institution Coloro, which is devoted to the study and forecasting of color palettes. “2026 will be the year of redirection; old ideas will be challenged, and tensions will grow at both a global and local level as more people recognize the need for urgent change in the way we treat our societies, arrange our industries, and work with our environment,” they state.

“This blue-green shade is cooling, calming, and restorative, with a transformative and regenerative character, inspired by redirecting our efforts to find collective and novel solutions for our planet.”

Curiously, visions of the future are laden with their own brand of nostalgia. Modernist futurism isn’t always solar punk; the dystopic imagery of The Matrix or Blade Runner speaks to our looming anxiety about what could lie ahead.

So it’s curious that, despite being works of science fiction, the Jetsons and Star Trek’s picturesque utopias seem to be fixed at a point in time, making us nostalgic for future’s past.