We e-met during the bull run of 2022 while freelancing for SuperRare. Very quickly, we found we had a shared interest for early web aesthetics, Animal Crossing memes, Y2K subcultures, and translucent collectible electronics. We wanted to investigate what it was, exactly, that made such content so appealing to us, working off a hunch that we surely weren’t the only ones to feel this way, and realized that the common denominator in the media and culture we loved was that each of them exuded the hazy yet somehow comforting allure of technostalgia. These observations and passions eventually fueled the creation of LAN Party, our collaborative curatorial project that, in its first arc, aims to critically explore the concept of technostalgia within the Web3 space.

Whilst we love the sentimentality and the aesthetics of artworks that explore technostalgia, we’re not just here for the vibes. We aim for this focus to serve as a unique lens through which we examine the pulse of contemporary digital culture, drawing on our personal observations, existing research, and what artists are currently producing. Our goal is to shed light on the newly found adoration for technostalgia in Web3, delineating its complexities and measuring its influence on the present and future cultural landscape.

We have already explored the aesthetic practices and the tradition of collecting and curating within Web3, positioning it as an extension of the historical and widespread human pursuit of gathering. We’ve also observed that the influence of rapid technological progress has resulted in a resurgence of technostalgic visuals and art forms, such as ASCII, pixel or low-poly art, signaling a shift away from powerful AI-generated or CGI creations. Through these reflections, we aim to explore how technostalgia is shaping our future, especially as Web3 underscores its pivotal role in today’s digital cultural landscape.

Here are some of our thoughts:

Understanding Technostalgia ☆゚.*・。゚

Technostalgia is an emotional reaction–often sentimental, close to a longing–that is most commonly associated with technology from the 1980s - 2000s. It pines for the machines and the internet we fell for: beautiful yet flawed, with a broken design that felt at once frustrating and serendipitous. This specific strain of nostalgia has the power to act as a retro-tech time machine, whisking us back to the era of chunky pixels, ‘90s web interfaces and low-poly graphics.

In the Web3 space, this blast from the past is particularly relevant. On top of the allure of the aesthetic layer, technostalgia in Web3 also reflects a yearning for the original values of the internet: decentralization, transparency, and democratization. This sentiment influences the development and perception of the Web3 ecosystem, driving a desire to recapture the possibilities and freedom associated with the ‘Wild West’ days of the internet, the read-only web, or Web 1.0.

Technostalgia has taken on new prominence in response to the dizzying pace of technological advancement, especially with the palpable tension and anxiety society has developed around surveillance capitalism, data protection and AI proliferation. As new technologies and systems quickly replace old ones, we often find ourselves missing the tech we used to play with in the 90s or 00s. This could be anything from the sound of a dial-up modem connecting to the network, the feel of a GameBoy or Tamagotchi in our hands, the Uh Oh! of ICQ, or the sight of the Windows 95 startup screen. While these memories evoke an attraction for the simplicity and beauty of past technologies, it also presents a paradox: whilst our society seems all-in on the advancements of the present, we grapple with the allure of the less efficient, clunky, buggy, and yet emotionally resonant tech of yesteryears, highlighting the slippery (and very human) state of alternating between progress and sentimentality.

美少女戦士セーラームーン, POLYGON1993, 2023

Technostalgia in Web3 ☆゚.*・。゚

Web3 is a new phase of the internet that is built on blockchains. It represents a shift from the current centralized model controlled by a handful of corporations to a decentralized model where use and access are controlled by community-run networks. The evolution of the internet can be described in three stages. Web1 was the first draft of the internet which proliferated in the 1990s and early 2000s, where people mostly used the internet to read web pages and chat. Web2 came about in the mid-2000s, with the emergence of social media platforms like Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter, empowering users to create their own content. Web3 is the next phase, where users not only read and write content, but also own it.

In the context of Web3, technostalgia takes on new significance, as it allows us to appreciate the journey of the internet from its inception to its current state, and now towards Web3 in full effect. Understanding the evolution of the internet from its origin to the present day is crucial because it provides us with a roadmap of previous innovations and challenges, informing our decisions and strategies as we build a more decentralized, transparent, and user-empowered digital world. This historical perspective is key to ensuring that Web3 not only replicates the successes of previous iterations but also learns from their shortcomings, notably utilizing the blockchain to enable a more thoughtful and inclusive future for the internet. The result: forging a path that honors the past while boldly innovating for tomorrow.

Kyt, Bug Phone, 2023

Technostalgia and Digital Art ☆゚.*・。゚

In the context of digital art, technostalgia acts as a theme, sentiment and lens for critique. This can take the form of adopting retro tech aesthetics such as pixel art or low-poly 3D renders, to reappropriating and/or making use of obsolete technologies. We can divide these approaches largely into two categories: The Sentimental and The Critical.

  1. The Sentimental

    Artists and artworks that adopt The Sentimental approach to technostalgia often reappropriate the aesthetics of retro, 90s or Y2K technologies and present them in a way that evokes a strong emotional reaction in the viewer as they relate what they see in the work with their own personal experiences and memories of these technologies. Our first online exhibition on SuperRare, The Crypto Pawnshop, explored the sentimental approach to technostalgia in depth, developing the visual imaginary of a fictional ‘crypto pawnshop’ that stocked a series of gadgets and gizmos that upon first view appear to be reminiscent of the real-life objects we used to own, and yet they are purely speculative, often exhibiting a broken or non-functional design. The dissociation of these imaginary objects with that which existed concretely demonstrates the anesthetizing effect of technostalgia; our flawed memories often over-apply sentimental or aesthetic value to these objects which, in reality, would often glitch or fail. By leaning into this dissociation, these artworks dive wholly into the purely ‘sentimental’ value of Technostalgia, favoring emotional reminiscences over factual verity.

    Some artists that have adopted the sentimental approach to technostalgia include: Emi Kusano, Kyt, POLYGON1993, and Nicole Ruggiero, to name a few.

    Emi Kusano, Synthetic Reflection #3, 2023

    2. The Critical

    The Critical approach to exploring technostalgia takes on radically different methodologies to that of The Sentimental. Often, these artists directly employ obsolete technological tools (for example, older models of computers such as the Commodore 64), to analyze our society’s current relationship with outdated tech. These artists often emphasize the importance of retaining a critical stance when considering our relationship with technology and the speed at which it is developing, and often also treat environmental concerns, such as what happens to all the technological waste that accumulates once these machines are at their term’s end.

    Notably, artist Dev Harlan stakes his claim within the ‘Critical’ camp in his essay “Notes on Retrofuturism” for Right Click Save magazine, declaring: “Nostalgia is a longing for an imagined past which allows one to gloss over unpleasant or undesirable histories in order to cope with the present. In this way, technostalgia privileges an imagined history of technology and an anesthetized view of that history. But sentimentalism is the opposite of criticality.” He goes on to describe his own fascination with collecting discarded electronics, with an impulse that was initially motivated by technostalgia, but quickly evolved into critiquing the wastefulness of the tech sector. He gathered and reappropriated hundreds of outdated models of computers, motivated by the motto “obsolescence is a lack of imagination”, to create gaming lounges or digital art installations in order to prolong the life of these machines that had been discarded for newer, shinier models.

    Raquel Meyers is another artist who uses obsolete technologies, such as a Commodore 64 computer, to create her digital artworks. The use of older models circumscribes the artist’s visual output in the style of computer artworks from the 1980s, automatically transcribing onto them a technostalgic aesthetic. And yet, the artist does not pander to sentimentality in her work, instead opting to make use of obsolete technologies to highlight urgent contemporary concerns. For example, in her work Cuando la casa se quema, la obsolescencia es resistencia [When the House Burns Down, Obsolescence is Resistance], which we curated in our second exhibition on Zora, TEXTSCAPE: ASCII Art, Textmode & its Derivatives, the artist creates a scrolling narrative of a house burning down, and the ecological and societal effects this has upon its surrounding community. The work is, of course, a metaphor for our current climate crisis, but the work is also self-reflexive in that it uses an object of obsolescence as an act of resistance (against technocapitalism? The effects of e-waste on climate change?), a concept that is also reflected in the title of the work.

    Cuando la casa se quema, la obsolescencia es resistencia [When the House Burns Down, Obsolescence is Resistance], Raquel Meyers, 2023

    Curating Technostalgia ☆゚.*・。゚

    These two distinct poles of technostalgic approaches in digital art inform the way we can curate such artworks. Indeed, curating technostalgia in 2024 can be a double-edged sword in a couple of ways. For example, presenting works of art that fall into ‘The Sentimental’ camp may appear diametrically opposed to those in ‘The Critical’ camp, and yet both are crucial as a means of holding up a mirror to how cultures online, and more specifically Web3, respond to the phenomenon of technostalgia. Both camps co-exist, and so we aim for the works that we curate to also demonstrate this without favoring one approach over the other.

    In addition, whilst curating technostalgia may serve as a digital conservation effort by capturing the essence of technological evolution, it also risks idealizing outdated technologies, potentially hindering innovation. There’s a delicate balance between valuing our digital heritage and fostering a forward-looking mindset in the ever-evolving tech landscape. After all, very little good comes from dwelling on the past.

    Moreover, the role of curation in shaping the future of technostalgia cannot be overstated. As our lives become ever more digitized, our experiences and memories are ever more encapsulated in digital formats. Curating these digital artifacts is akin to creating a time capsule that allows future generations to access and understand the digital trend of our era. It’s a way of preserving the ‘digital DNA’ of our society, which includes not only the technologies themselves but also the cultural and emotional contexts in which they existed.

    It has been well-documented that the concept of curation has transcended the confines of trad museum spaces (for better or for worse). When it comes to digital artworks and artifacts, curatorial practices become a social process that encompasses the selection, interpretation, and negotiation of a wide array of embodied knowledge. This shift is particularly pronounced in the Web3 space, where the zones between consumer, creator, and curator are increasingly fluid. Within this nuanced landscape, curation plays a crucial role in developing the narrative of technostalgia. It’s about constructing a story that is linked with collective memory while opening a dialogue about the way tech runs through our society.

    We, as curators in the Web3 space, have the unique opportunity to influence how technostalgia is perceived and understood, ensuring that it remains a relevant and insightful aspect of our cultural discourse.