At some point, nostalgia began to permeate all aspects of our lives. There wasn’t a specific starting whistle, but almost simultaneously, media and technology companies, retailers, and fashion designers became interested in the past.

In the 2000s and 2010s, people longed for a future that never happened, a phenomenon cultural theorist Mark Fisher called hauntology. Now, people long for a past they never had. Writer John Koenig coined the term “anemoia” for this state—a sense of nostalgia for times one has never lived through. A GWI survey conducted in 12 countries showed that Gen Z and millennials think more about the past than older generations. Young people feel most nostalgic about the 2000s and 1990s. 37% of Gen Z experience nostalgia for the 1990s, even though by definition they were at most three years old during that decade.

Often, the objects of nostalgia are the technologies of previous eras. Young people are increasingly fascinated by gadgets from the past: point-and-shoot cameras, button phones, old gaming consoles, and MP3 players.

Research by American social psychologist Andrew Abeyta and his UK colleague Paul Maher suggests that nostalgia (and the closely related concept of anemoia) evokes a sense of safety and comfort, and also helps people cope with crises. To put it bluntly: the world has become frightening, and people are trying to escape it by retreating into the past.

Anemoia is inextricably linked to a rejection of cutting-edge technology. One might think this would make big tech companies nervous, but corporations are structured to meet any demand: anything that can be monetized will be monetized. Companies are pulling old products out of dusty storage, revisiting outdated advertisements, and dressing new models in old props—sand may not be falling from the beach, but it’s still falling. SEGA and Xbox are re-releasing classic gaming consoles and games from the 1990s and 2000s, Atari has also relaunched the original Atari VCS console, and Sony has brought back the classic Walkman line. This year, Ayaneo is releasing a compact gaming PC designed like a retro Nintendo console, and Ordz Games is launching a retro-style portable console that allows players to earn bitcoins while playing.

The current wave of nostalgia is not a new trend. According to Brandwatch, the number of mentions of this phenomenon on the internet doubled sharply in 2021, right after the pandemic. It fully took off in 2023, is set to be one of the defining trends of 2024, and will continue for some time thereafter.