You saw it. We saw it. Everyone saw it. Slowly but surely this past weekend everyone started posting current pictures of themselves next to photos from 2009. Largely marked #2009vs2019 or #10yearchallenge the posts flooded Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. As might be expected, the meme quickly got picked up by those looking to make a point about the state of the world—or get LoLs—through posting political images or jokes about celebs, but the more personal side of it, the actual nostalgia bit, is a gift given to us by our devices.
The reasoning is simple: By 2009, thanks to the boom in smartphones, most folks had very decent cameras in their pockets at all times. The iPhone came out in 2007 and more than 1 billion smartphones were sold in 2009 alone. Culture had not yet seen the full rise of the selfie and Instagram itself was still a year away, but by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, many people had digital photos of themselves at their fingertips at all times.
And those photos have carried with them. Apple didn’t launch iCloud until 2011, but even before that many of us were transferring our photo albums to each new device. And social media and other services like Flickr let people keep, for better or worse, whole albums of college party pics, travel photos, and glamour shots online, ready to be accessed whenever.
Scrolling through my feeds over the weekend, this was easy to see. So many “2009” photos I saw reminded me of what used to live in someone’s “Top 8” on MySpace. Others were clearly pictures-of-pictures captured while flipping through scrapbooks in someone’s childhood home. Still others looked like someone’s first Facebook profile pic or a capture from a webcam. Those images may no longer live in their place of origin, but the cloud storage and seemingly bottomless space afforded by smartphones and laptops has made it easy for an old photo to follow us for as long as we want to hang on to it.
These photos are also blessedly pure. The Year in Gear 2009 was still a couple years before Instagram came along and allowed us all to shroud our photos in “Lo-Fi” filters or Snapchat animal faces. Filters are nice—not everyone can be a great photographer and sometimes smoothing out the rough edges can make a subpar photo look much better—but they have come to distort how we see our friends and family’s memories and getting a chance to see their 2009 selves warts and all is remarkably refreshing. (Not everyone needs to look like an influencer!)
But there was something else, too. The entire 2009 vs. 2019 meme was also a reminder of a time when social media still held the promise of self-expression and connection with strangers—not a time wherein the internet felt divided into two camps: folks supporting a brand and trolls. (I’m generalizing, yes.) Things—our devices, the ways in which we use them—have gotten better, and worse, but scrolling through the feed it was nice to remember the way we were.