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.