Mindsets of Nostalgia

Extroverted or successful people in social situations tend to be sensitive and appropriately responsive to verbal and nonverbal cues. 

On the nonverbal level, much information is communicated telepathically without our conscious awareness. Humans have evolved to notice body language and subtle clues during social interactions that allow us to adhere to societies norms. Maintaining eye contact with someone portrays confidence, but staring at the eyes of another person for too long won’t win you any friends. Mimicking another’s body language can lead to positive social outcomes such as an unspoken rapport or a sense of unconscious trust, and yet mimicking another’s dialect or accent is a bit weird (and yet I am guilty of this). Yawning can perhaps signal boredom and disinterest, and yet research suggests that yawning serves an important neurological function in improving alertness and concentration, lowering stress and regulating brain temperature. Verbal conversation functions simarlily; people who talk too much are annoying, but so are people that hardly talk at all. Over a lifetime people develop and learn the implicit social rules of responsiveness to a greater or lesser degree.

When engaging students in immersive gaming environments, people new to the medium talk about the difficulty they have relaying information due to a lack of visual body language clues, the lack of ‘control’ or the ‘impersonal’ feel of the space. Granted, it’s a little different at first but this is due to the medium’s affordances differing to traditional settings in both style and space – it’s not really the space itself though, but that the space demands a shift in control, and as a consequence people feel uncomfortable. Giving up this power/control struggle is seen as relinquishing one’s duty as a teacher – but this mindset is one that is steeped in tradition and nostalgia.

The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return. ― M. Kundera

The story of Odysseus is a good illustration of nostalgia as it was originally conceived. Odysseus’s epic 10 year journey can be seen as a hero experiencing nostalgia as he struggles to return to the way things were and get back to his home and ultimately his wife in Ithaca.

Current definitions of nostalgia generally follow a sentimental longing for the past, especially in reference to how things used to be better (whether they were or not). Games have now been around for long enough that it’s not uncommon to encounter people thinking romantically about the good old days of gaming, when 20 cents got you three lives and there were no such things as health packs. (Personally, the other week, I found myself wanting to play the classic old arcade game Pengu…)

Nostalgia creeps into our everyday lives without people giving it any thought – the floppy disk icon for the save function in Microsoft Word or the most recent example of nostalgic nonsense of cc’ing someone on twitter when including them in a tweet.

Carbon copying was the technique of using carbon paper to produce one or more copies simultaneously during the creation of paper documents. With the advent of email, the legacy of ‘cc’ was kept and referred to sending someone who was a secondary recipient of an email a copy of the original. With Twitter this isn’t necessary, and yet people insist on ‘cc’ing…

Nostalgia causes ignorance. When you long and constantly think about the past you do not pay attention to what goes on in front of you and you apply old ways of thinking to new questions. You do old things in new circumstances. This isn’t to say we should ignore the past. We learn from others and become well-versed in the literature, but we see further than others because we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us.

Will we ever overcome the nostalgic yearning for the good old days of education? Maybe. What we can do now though is have an open mind and come to the realisation that everything changes. Celebrate the power of being in the now and have a rational perspective on things. We cannot be dismissive of new ways of learning and new environments. An incredible amount of hubris and arrogance is involved when spending 5 minutes with something and then being dismissive of it. Playing a game for only 5 minutes is like listening to classical music for 5 minutes and then making a judgement – you are not going to be able to understand the nuances or the complexities in that short time frame.

Gaming environments are empowering for the introverts among us. They give introverts a sense of freedom, social agency and confidence that they would not have otherwise. The doubters need to throw away their nostalgic yearnings because many are using this as a way of avoiding the present – and by not thinking about the present, you risk your students’ future.