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A couple of related articles in TODAYonline that deal with the recent surge of nostalgia in Singapore’s social discourse. This can be seen in pages like irememberSG on Facebook, articles like these, or even TV shows, concerts and other forms of entertainment that hark back to the 90s, 80s and beyond.

Part of this is a general nostalgia not exclusive to Singapore, especially with reference to the brief international optimism between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. Singapore’s rapid development since independence, though, has seen rapid change, including increased population and the removal of many urban landmarks, thus contributing to a sense of a loss of place for many. Such trends can, as the articles point out, create discontent, and is a trend perhaps magnified by the rise of social media.

Such overarching trends can be useful to refer to in terms of AQ responses, both in terms of a comparison between past and present as well as the discontent brought out by such reminiscence.

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One expert calls it the “sweet imagination of the past when the present is found wanting”, while others describe it as a “warm fuzzy feeling” or a “hipster heritage impulse”.

Whatever one calls the wave of nostalgia that has swept across the island, this phenomenon, which has been accentuated by the social media explosion, is unlikely to go away any time soon. And there are implications for policymakers beyond the clamour for buildings and areas to be preserved, such as the rise of socio-cultural clashes, the experts noted.

“Nostalgia is the gentle narcotic for a bruised soul. It can be canned and sold. Look at the National Museum’s replicating of childhood games — there is an audience and market for it,” said Dr Terence Chong, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. “There is a fetish for nostalgia out there.”

Dr Thum Ping Tjin, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Asia Research Institute, attributed it to the renaissance of civil society here. “We are both looking back to our accomplishments of the past, and forward to a brighter, more inclusive and participatory future,” he said.

While historians, sociologists and other experts generally welcomed nostalgia as a force for good, some warned that it could be a double-edged sword.

“It can turn ugly when it feeds into the idea that there is an authentic Singapore, which can become fodder for xenophobia,” said Singapore University of Technology and Design lecturer Nazry Bahrawi, who conducts research into culture and urbanisation, among other fields.

There is also the human tendency to view the past through rose-tinted glasses, Mr Wan Wee Pin, the National Library Board’s deputy director of engagement, pointed out.

“It is a fallacy to think of nostalgia as only the good old days,” he said. “We have heard people talk about the ‘kampung spirit’ and the close community then, but honestly, would you want to live in a kampung today?”

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