Nostalgia can be dangerous

Published Monday, July 10 2023

An SGI Indy from 1994 sitting on a desk

A few days ago I turned 50 years old. Coincidentally, I’ve also been playing with a vintage computer that brings me right back to my first real job out of college, when I worked at Silicon Graphics in Mountain View, California, as a contractor.

1996 is getting perilously close to 30 years ago now. It was a much simpler time in my life, of course. I was young, I’d just moved across country, I was relatively care-free, and I was working with really fun coworkers at a company I greatly admired. Plus, I had almost no responsibility, if I’m honest! My job was to take content that people gave me, turn it into HTML, and publish it to the SGI Intranet, it couldn’t have been easier. My workstation at SGI was an Indy, just like the one I have now. Maybe the Indy was a modest computer by SGI standards, but in my mind it represented the idea that I’d made it, I was an adult, I had a job doing fun stuff for a cool company.

Today, the Indy can’t do much. I used it for web development in 1996, but it can’t even browse the modern web in 2023. It’s basically a paperweight. What, then, was even the point of setting it up? Nostalgia. The flood of memories. The feeling of being young again. But that feeling can only last so long, and it can only provide so much happiness.

All this reminiscing at the turn of my half century mark has me kind of swirling. I miss those days of course, probably more than I should. I think there’s some danger there, danger of missing what’s happening around me right now. It’s OK to visit the past, but it feels like it’s a bad idea to stay too long. I feel a little bit like I’m turning into Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite, wondering what would have happened if Coach had put me in the game. It’s not necessarily healthy.

I think it’s time to put the Indy away, make some desk space, and think about the future for a change.