The internet today is starting to look more and more like the internet back in the day – the internet of illicit Bebo profiles and downloading songs to our iPod Nanos.

It was a different era where uploading 100 photos from one night out was a right of passage.

In 2022, our appetite for nostalgia is shaping so much more than the fashion industry, as the return of Y2K clothing is accompanied by some of the most iconic tech of the time – most notably, the digital camera.

Low-rise jeans, Abercrombie & Fitch baby doll tops, and UGGs are already back in fashion, an outfit that has not seen the light of day since the early days of secondary school for many millennials. Gen Z are exploring the fashion choices they saw their older siblings make back in that strange limbo-like time between 2005 and 2013 through a new and distinctly technology-focused lens.

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Retrofuturism is a movement in the arts that shows the influence of a hypothetical future on things created in the present. The 1960s and 1970s were the concept's heyday, as many consumer goods had a futuristic feel while still encapsulating the aesthetic of the time – think Barbarella.

With hindsight, we can see that interest in what the world of the future would look like heavily influenced key media at the time. As the decades ticked on, retrofuturism manifested itself once again in the 90s, in dystopian depictions of a future in film, where hackers and cyberpunks play leading roles.

The modern interpretation of retrofuturism could be turned on its head and called "future retroism," as we now see depictions of tech and style from the past melded with our existing high tech (by comparison) era to craft a new aesthetic. The point-and-shoot digital cameras of the early 2000s are making a comeback with this vibe.

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The hashtag #digitalcamera on TikTok recently racked up 125 million videos, a huge jump on just two months ago when it sat around 90 million. Film cameras had gone through a similar spike within youth culture, and digital cameras are now moving into that space.

The noise created by snapping a digital image or video has a specific texture and grain, the same idea that gives shooting on film its ‘cool factor.’

The nostalgic element of this look stops us in our tracks during our daily aimless doom scrolling, and gives us that warm familiarity and longing to return to that simpler time of digital cameras, flash box decisions and burning CDs.

For millennials, that is.

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Gen Z is the champion of the new wave, alchemising elements of our current technologically literate present with the recent past.

Digital cameras are carried like an accessory to the Y2K vibes while hailing back to a pre-influencer time when earnest photo taking was seen as an authentic documentation of the world rather than an attempt at gaining sponsorships or grappling for likes.

The chunky silver bodies of the digital cameras has become as much a part of the aesthetic of the trend as the slightly grainy, time-stamped photos they produce – more props for cool points online than actual vessels for photographic expression.

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Bella Hadid, Charli DeMelio, Matilda Djerf, Emily Ratajkowski, and Nicola Peltz Beckham have all featured the digital camera itself as a kitsch accessory. Unlike how they were used back in 2007, there is a newfound element of performance that comes with the new dawn of digital camera usage.

While millennials posed for the lens, snapping group pictures at teenage discos and tossing the camera directly into our bags afterwards, the trend now sees content creators making the actual digital camera itself part of the imagery.

Countless videos on TikTok are filmed on smartphones depicting Gen Z-ers taking selfies on digital cameras, the whole camera visible in the shot. Instagram is now littered with iPhone photos of an image on the display screen on the back of a digital camera, a photo of a photo.

The original iteration of digital camera photos in the mid 2000s was almost hideously uncurated – uploading photos of your friend slumped over a table in Supermacs after a night out or pulling the ugliest faces possible faces in your school uniform were uploaded without thought, eager to give the then uncharted social media world a glimpse into your life, unfiltered.

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There was a youthful authenticity about the act, and that’s what makes those pictures so cringey for many of us to look back on, a window into our unironically chaotic teenage days.

Now, people have an urge to control their image and how they are perceived, preparing content for a potentially global audience, understanding that those messy photos or videos would never remain within the confines of a Facebook friends list nowadays.

However, authenticity is an aspirational aura to emulate, and this nuanced, contrived form of authenticity is the biggest leap we have made since the early days of social media.

Nostalgia is always in style, and while culturally we are far removed from the social media landscape of the past, some memories remain. The 2000s saw the internet become a free for all with the development of social media platforms like MySpace, Bebo and Facebook - not forgetting more niche digital pulpits like MSN and blogging platforms like Tumblr, eBlogger and Live Journal.

Each platform was littered with flash photographs of nights at the underage disco, heavily posed selfies in bedrooms painted lurid pink and turquoise blue, and seemingly never ending rows of fresh faced lads with gel-spiked hair tips grinning in their suits for the races.

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It was an exercise in teenage ego, but an earnest one without the self awareness of the present. Instagram changed how we perceive capturing a moment, whittling it down from one to maximum ten photos per post – and the increase to ten is a recent development.

But only a decade ago, people would upload over 100 photos of a single night out with aplomb, taking hours to caption each one - a labour that was lost with the transition to Facebook thanks to the tagging feature - in albums with special labels, often an in-joke from the night or something easy-breezy like the month of the year, with carefully chosen album covers to lure in social media snoopers.

The aesthetic totally differed depending on what style you personally prescribed – from edgier looks like indie sleaze and emo to the smoothed out and saturated Tumblr Girl editing style – but for the majority the images were unfiltered, candid and definitely sloppy in comparison to how we post now.

Instagram stories might be the closest thing we have to it today, but even on stories people edit and curate what they share – and are quick to delete posts in the cold light of day if a few too many cocktails reinstated that youthful feeling of uninhibited sharing.

This intimacy was inspired by the feeling that your online spaces were for you and your friends to enjoy – something Bebo and MySpace fostered with their visible "top friends" lists that featured on everyone's profiles. Online influencing was a thing of the future at this point – though internet celebrities had begun to spring up, they were seen as a novelty.

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People cared about popularity online, be it through the amount of Facebook friends you had or your Bebo page views, which were displayed in your bio – I am not ashamed to admit that myself and a friend, at 13 years old, would take some time each day to refresh one other’s pages to artificially bolster that number.

The idea of seeking validation on social media came more from comments from actual friends and people on your social periphery or likes from the cool girls in the year above you, than from hoards of admiring strangers. Having 1,000 friends on Facebook was hailed as outrageous popularity, which pales compared to the millions of followers regular people rack up on apps like TikTok today.

It wasn’t until 2009 that we saw the first real wave of social media influencers, dragged along in the undertow towards fame by the unstoppable force that was the rising popularity of YouTube, as well as the development of fashion blogs. By this stage, most people serious about carving out a community online that didn’t just involve their nearest and dearest had begun switching to using professional camera equipment or filming on newly developed smartphones.

The return of the digital camera is a whisper of longing for the time before social media status was such a driving force behind how we share our perspectives. If the retrofuturism of the past was a yearning for the potential decadence of a utopian future, then the insertion of dated tech into our digitally literate age is indicative of a wish to return to a pared-back social media past, all while continuing to pay homage to the realities of a demanding, curated online world.