Recently, I played it again in a humid, non-air conditioned school bus. I was playing with two friends and, suddenly, we were children again, ready for whatever the upcoming finals week could hit us with. I felt an immense nostalgia wash over me. I had not played this game, or even thought about it, for quite some time, and here I was again, playing as if I had not forgotten the mechanics. Through a thin veil of sweat, I tried to savor every moment of the experience, sweltering sun beating in from dirty windows and the vague smell of smoke.
I was struck by, among other things, the innocence of the gameplay itself. With nothing but a loop of string and the company of a few friends, we were able to amuse ourselves for an hour or so. It was like playing tic-tac-toe on loop, and even though no one could win or lose, we found something beautiful in the very act itself. We reacted to the situations presented to us with little remarks, like “damn” or “this one’s easy!"
This all contrasted with the incredibly complex technology that lay beside us. We had phones the whole time, and we could’ve used them. In fact, I was planning on listening to music for the ride. But instead, I was incredibly taken by a simple piece of yarn, and my white earbuds drooped next to me, useless.
Perhaps I was only playing along to evoke that bittersweet tang of nostalgia. The simplicity of the game was remarkably familiar, and not only was the game simple, but the memories harkened back to a time without stress and angst. This nostalgia has become a large part of mass media, with shows like Fuller House reminding the audience of a more innocent past. Disney has begun to release multiple live-action remakes of animated movies that today’s young adults grew up with. Although many argue that these remakes are worse than the original, they still make Hollywood a great deal of money. As long as people are going to see them, there’s no guarantee that filmmakers will stop.
There’s a psychological term for this: rosy retrospection, the idea that the past is typically viewed through a colored lens. This idea can apply to that ex-partner, today’s music, or even our lives. The human brain tends to forget the more tedious, less exciting parts of our memories, and focuses on the vivid emotions instead. Rosy retrospection generally creates a sense that we should return to that past era, if possible. However, this isn't healthy. Certainly, the past deserves some credit, but there must be some things that are better today than they were. In addition, although society isn’t affected by every little step into our memories, an infatuation with the past can be harmful. Even my friends and I couldn’t play with our yarn forever, stopping when it got repetitive. We would be insane to trust that each time we played, we’d have new combinations of yarn. So we settled back to chatting or Snapchatting, and society’s progress was not lost on us.
This is the essence of the ephemeral. If you can relive the past, there’s no stopping you, but recognize that it is fleeting, and enjoy it while it lasts. Hold it only as a memory, because the recreation of that previously beautiful moment is impossible. But admire that it lives on, if only in your memory. This is not only beneficial to your personal life, but to the world’s trends in general. An unhealthy obsession with the past benefits no one.
A few weeks after playing cat’s cradle on the simmering bus, I again encountered the game. I was just as surprised, not because I was not the one playing, but because the two contexts were so radically different. It was “Senior Cut Day," a day for juniors to wear the senior class colors to transition into the top of the metaphorical food chain. Some of my classmates took this very seriously, bringing in swathes of black clothing and accessories, although it was nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. During the last period of the day, two girls wearing black bead necklaces were chatting and fiddling with their necklaces. At some point, one of them removed it from their neck and held it in their hands. As she stared at the beads, she said, “Hey, you wanna play cat’s cradle?”
The other girl looked at her in the eye, as if trying to find the joke. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, let me try." The first girl began to wrap the beads around her palms, but she stretched it too tightly and the whole strand broke apart. She laughed.
“I guess we can’t play then.”
The other girl looked a bit disappointed. “I guess so.”
As I eavesdropped on their conversation, it occurred to me that these girls had faced exactly what I faced—a reminder of the past in the form of cat’s cradle. But their dilemma epitomized the issue at hand. Instead of using yarn, they were using black beads, the color of seniority, superiority. In some ways, the yarn traditionally used for the game is maturing. As our fleeting childhood disappears, we have more to look forward to in the coming years. Whatever’s coming will eventually turn nostalgic, and so the cycle continues. But not without returning to the point of departure, or the cradle itself.