We Might Be In The Age Of Anemoia

Photo: Ian Taylor, Bim | Canva
Nostalgia for a time we weren't present for

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m one of those froo-froo people who yearn for the French art scene of the 1950s. It almost feels like a surreal calling at times. There are moments where I feel like I would have lived a perfectly idyllic life, eating pate and my daily bread with a bunch of cats.

Yep. That is my dream life. To a point, it almost feels like I remember the streets of Nice or Marseilles back in the day. However, I’ve only been to France once and I was 12, and it was the 90s, not the 50s.

A lot of the time, I look at old photos and feel something that I can’t quite place.

There’s a part of me that feels like everyone has those moments where they feel an uncanny nostalgia for a place they’ve never been before. It’s just that there wasn’t a specific name for it until recently.

A couple of years ago, a content creator known as The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows came up with a term that fits this emotion: anemoia.

Anemoia is a feeling of nostalgia for a place you’ve never lived, in a time that you weren’t alive. It’s a term that really captures that feeling of wanting to turn back time, perhaps with a little curiosity about who you would have been in a past life.

Some also started to call this term protonostalgia, but that’s not as popular nor as powerful. It’s not quite melancholy or all-consuming, like Germany’s term fernweh. It’s a term that became so powerful, it turned into a quasi-meme.

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In recent years, anemoia has become (kind of) a star of the online content world. I love to watch YouTube videos when I run out of ideas.

Lately, I’ve been seeing anemoia tied to another major movement in the online art content world: liminal spaces.



Liminal spaces are traditionally places of transition, but the online world started to change the definition. Online, liminal spaces are often described as spaces that are typically filled with people but are then empty. The end result is nostalgic, distant and unsettling.

A good liminal space effect will have you think, “Hey … have I been there? I feel like I’ve been there before, but I’m not sure. Why do I feel like I’ve been here? Does this place even exist?”

Abandoned malls, older children’s play places, and unusually large tiled pool areas have all been called liminal. When you see a liminal place, you understand why people say it’s unsettling but nostalgic. If you’re like me, it also can be comforting.

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Online, there are a lot of videos that talk about both anemoia and liminal spaces. In fact, there is an entire game about it called Anemoiapolis.

I started to wonder what the deal surrounding anemoia was.



Yes, it’s a universal feeling, but it seems like people have been experiencing anemoia more frequently than ever before. Is it a matter of us actually just talking about it now that we have a better term for it? Is it because it’s trendy?

Well … I have a bit of a different idea about this.

Anemoia is a very human emotion, and it’s surprising that we only recently came up with this term to explain it. It’s a very distinct nostalgia that has a little curiosity and wistfulness to it.

Perhaps, it’s a feeling of kinship you can’t quite explain. Or, maybe it’s something a little more telling about our society. We’ve all experienced this in the past, but the uptick in yearning to live in a different time definitely seems to be rising.

Honestly, I think a big reason why anemoia-inducing art is so trendy right now is obvious.

I mean, look at our society. We literally live in a corporatocracy where companies have a bigger pull on politics, laws and morality than people do. Our hospitals will refuse to treat dying patients if they run out of money or if insurance says no.

Housing is at an all-time high price, causing thousands (possibly millions) to live in shanty towns or couch surf to survive. It’s absolutely insane how dreary and bleak our survival is right now.

Is it really so shocking that our society has started to yearn for days gone by? A feeling of nostalgia makes sense when our future as a species seems so grim. I mean, our planet is on fire.

That explains the desire for retro stuff, especially a desire to return to the 00s and 90s — two main decades known for their optimism and pop culture that most of us remember or were influenced by online.

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2001 marked a year of trauma for our society. It was, for many of our collective, the official end of American innocence. It was the end of a society where trusting came naturally and where we felt safe-ish around strangers.

Our collective mood and attitude towards strangers have gone downhill since 9/11 happened. Today, we vet dates harder than we ever did before. We also get nervous even hanging out with people from class.

My mom told me that her class of college students don’t even know one another’s names these days. That gives you an idea of how skittish people are around one another. We are a traumatized nation, a traumatized world.

In this sense, I think a lot of people are feeling anemoia over the way people typically used to communicate.

A part of anemoia is the feeling of familiarity in the foreign. Maybe we’re conflating the nostalgia of yesteryear with something that we’re missing today. I think a lot of people miss (or don’t realize they miss) hanging out and talking to others.

The advent of the internet and the rise of social media culture means that we have a new way to communicate that never existed before. There is an entire generation (or two) of humanity that never experienced life without a cell phone.

I want you to think about that. There is an entire large portion of society that doesn’t know what life was like without phones or email. They don’t know the feeling of having a regular social life with face-to-face interaction as the default mode of conversation.

They don’t know what life was like when ghosting was verboten, when people could literally never know they weren’t invited to something, or when the ability to find new friends was even harder than it is today. They don’t know what life was like before online forums made it possible for toxic concepts to seep into mainstream life.

That was an age that could be very isolating for those of us on the fringe of society but for most people? It was a good time to be alive. Friendships were closer. Things were just a little bit more real.

Perhaps the society-wide anemoia we feel is a subtle outcry for days when people communicated the way our species naturally evolved to communicate. Maybe it’s a subconscious nostalgia and yearning for the closeness of old-school communities.

Whatever it is, I feel like we all kind of wish that we could turn the clock back a bit. I guess the closest we can come to it is a sepia-toned movie or a picture of an empty shopping mall.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others. 

This article was originally published at Ossiana Tepfenhart. Reprinted with permission from the author.