Do you want to turn back time? Cue Cher “If I Could Turn Back Time.” 

The truth is, if you are on social media, you probably don’t have much choice. Social media is turning back time at a rapid pace with the four major platforms launching nostalgia features. Whether it’s Snapchat’s Flashback Stories, Facebook’s Memories, or even your Google Photos memories, these platforms provide a gateway for us to relive our past digital moments. 

Most recently, these moments of nostalgia on social media have expanded beyond Memories and Flashback Stories. We see new social features that drive nostalgia, made possible by AI, that generates the viral face filters we know and love. When first introduced, face filters evoked nostalgia by overlaying decade-themed graphics, light leaks, or disposable camera distortions on your selfies. Snapchat recently took it a step further and introduced their Baby Face Filter, allowing you to visualize a baby version of your current self…not to mention the FaceApp, which allows you to take a peek into the future.

On average, we spend a collective 116 minutes on social media platforms each day, yet it’s reported that we feel more socially isolated than ever. Are the nostalgic features on the top 4 social platforms an attempt to make us feel more connected with our interactions? 

Social media as a nostalgic generator

As a millennial, I used to grab a box of old photos to take a trip down memory lane and relive yesteryear, but now Snapchat and Facebook do that for me. Whether it’s through AI face filters or automatically generated On This Day photos, social media has changed the way I engage with nostalgia. Instead of primarily going to look for old photos in albums, social media delivers it directly to my screen. 

As a result, I’d surmise that we experience nostalgia more frequently, and in a different medium than before, digitally. With social media at our fingertips, and the platforms delivering nostalgia to us, most of us engage in it without intent. 

Why we are so obsessed with nostalgia on social

Nostalgia is a uniquely human feeling and one that is quite common. On average, we engage in nostalgia about once a week, set off by such things as a familiar scent, piece of music or old photo. Researchers told The New York Times in 2013 that powerful nostalgic memories can help us cope with transitions in our lives, give us comfort, and help our sense of identity. By connecting the addictiveness of social media with the comfort of nostalgia, it’s no wonder we engage with these nostalgic social features at a viral rate. 

How we experimented with it on our team

All the buzz about Snapchat’s viral baby filter got our team thinking… Does the Baby Face filter hold its own when compared to a real-life baby photo? We set out to measure up Snapchat’s accuracy by conducting our own experiment. 

Each team member submitted their real baby photos (aged 2-3) and we set out to compare them to a selfie using Snapchat’s baby filter. You can check out the results below and use the slider our amazing design team implemented to analyze the accuracy. 

In the end, our feelings are mixed. Some of the Snapchat Baby Face Filters were pretty accurate, where others missed the mark. As a team, this experiment was a great way to take a collective trip down memory lane and revel in joy as we shared each other’s baby photos. We used the app in the office, laughing in person and reveling over the similarities (or lack thereof) between our baby photos and Snapchat’s interpretation. 

While we didn’t know each other as toddlers, there was still a feeling of nostalgia and connection built from the experience of getting to know each other better. The experiment has also prompted other conversations about our childhoods, like alternate names our parents considered for us, proving social media is still fulfilling its mission of bringing us together… at least some of the time.