Intel’s Museum of Nostalgia

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Intel has announced “The Museum of Me”, a web app which connects to your Facebook account to create a video of a walking tour through a museum dedicated to you, displaying pictures, friends, and the things you like in a 3D virtual gallery whose white walls and minimalist decor resembles MoMA. A video of a random user’s museum is here:

The obvious critique is that this is more narcissism run amok, that the Facebook generation would love to peruse the mediated aspects of their social lives as art in a gallery. Museum of Me yet another example of how it’s all about “me.”

But I think that’s wrong. Sure, that’s what Intel is thinking will draw people in, but they are wrong. What most Facebook users under 25 implicitly understand is that what is on Facebook is largely junk; ephemeral and fleeting aspects of their lives that they won’t care to review months from now, let alone think is worthy of the exalted treatment Intel is giving them with this tool. Sure, they’ll give it a try as a fun toy, and as institutional viral advertising it may even work, but Intel doesn’t really understand the market here.

There is a yawning chasm between Generation X and the Millennials that Gen X doesn’t realize exists but which is one of the defining features of Millennials social existence. For Gen X, staring down the barrel of 40, all these tools are about looking back. For them, Facebook is about looking back, reconnecting with friends from high school or college. It’s about repairing, restoring or revisiting the past. This is also the motivation behind so much of the 80’s nostalgia in our culture. Gen X is simply returning to the detritus of it’s past in its present celebrations of the kitsch of its youth.

So for Intel’s marketing department, staffed as it almost certainly is by the Gen X set, a museum for what’s on Facebook makes sense. But for people in college and younger, it is nonsensical. Why would they want to put their lives in a museum when for them the most exciting and interesting parts have yet to happen?

But this constant desire to look back by Generation X is everywhere. To Millennials, it might even be oppressive. Endless Hollywood remakes, aging celebrities trotted out anew, etc. Their embrace of indie film and music, along with their rejection of mainstream television and Hollywood reflects this. They are trying to get out from under a past that they never lived, but that the Generation at the helm of industry and culture is neurotically revisiting.

The problem with the Museum of Me isn’t the “Me” part, it’s that they put “me” in a museum. 

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13 Responses to Intel’s Museum of Nostalgia

  1. Dan Dravot says:

    That museum thing would be cool if there were flak cannons lying around that you could pick up and blast the exhibits. Otherwise who cares?

    Which, OK, good point about nostalgic 40ish Gen-X a-holes…

  2. max says:

    Every generation seems to do this; a collective catharsis that attempts to define events as history with all the warm comfiness that hindsight bias provides. Anything to get over the disquiet that comes from hearing your favorite summer jam from junior year behind the elderly voice in a suppository commercial.

    The Gen X nostalgia is being done in perfect Gen X style: simultaneously desperately lonely and hopelessly half-assed.

  3. “The obvious critique is that this is more narcissism run amok”

    Actually, everything you described is exactly that critique. The missing piece is that just as Intel is staffed by middle aged Gen Xers, the average facebook user is also a Gen Xer, around 45.

    Everything you said about the 25 yo is right, they won’t care about this, their best years are ahead of them. But I think that facebook itself is destined to be a sort of museum. Yes, 25 yos are using facebook, but not for long if only because the average age is 45.

    Which makes the facebook IPO the signal of the end for facebook?

    • CubaLibre says:

      I don’t think this is right. As a 26yo myself, I see most of my peers trusting Facebook as an eternal social-personal resource. They’ll take all their pictures off of their camera, put them up on Facebook, and then delete them from their cameras and hard drives – meaning the only digital copy is now stored on Facebook. They’re storing memories there, the way you might keep a photo album of pictures from your sophomore year spring break in a shoebox. (Difference of course is that it’s a shoebox anyone can open anytime they want from anywhere in the world.) Same with message conversations with friends (used to be letters) or the record of your status updates (used to be a diary). It’s a big old digital shoebox.

      I don’t think you’ll see 26yos abandoning Facebook as more and more of the elderly (that’s you, 45yos) using it. People trust it too much, the same way I trust gmail too much to archive all of my old emails forever. They’d leave Facebook just as soon as you’d throw out all your shoeboxes. (And why should you? Even if you don’t care about what’s in them any more, it costs you nothing to keep them hanging around the corner of your attic. Costs even less to use Facebook’s free servers.)

    • Pastabagel says:

      Those average age stats are questionable. It’s pretty much a guarantee that every parent with a kid on facebook is getting a facebook account. More useful would be stats on which demo uses facebook most frequently, but Facebook isn’t telling.

      • fireandvice says:

        It’s not that Facebook’s not telling, it’s that they’re not going to make it easy for you to find out unless you’re paying them big bucks.

        The best way to get “demographics” out of a company: pretend you want to advertise with them (and of course, all demographics reports are skewed in the direction of making the company appear like the best fit for your ads.)

        If you begin the setup process for placing an ad on facebook, and drill down through the reach and targeting sections of the site, you get into an area where you can see demographics for different target markets.

        Fortunately, there are social media pundits out there who like making charts and graphs way more than I do. Here’s one from March

  4. Fifi says:

    You know, I’m really not at all convinced that previous generations aren’t/weren’t full of people just as self centred and “all about me” as ones currently alive (and also generous ones with a communal bent). This seems a lot like how people of a certain age in every generation seem to complain about “the kids these days and how they’re ruining the world” (which basically seems like a way for the older generation to avoid their own responsibility for the state of the world when they actually contributed much more to making the world like it is at this point in time than kids who have little real power). More and more this starts to seem like a nostalgia for a faux past where humans were ideal and, well, not human. It’s a bit like the idea of the Noble Savage that gets promoted by neo-primitivists or the how many Westerners idealize and Disney-fy Buddhism (conveniently forgetting that Tibetan monks were actually running rather brutal serfdoms, a bit like old Disney himself ;-).

    Does it ever occur to anyone that our social systems favor narcissists and narcissism not because it’s something new but because it’s actually something quite old? That we create advertising that taps into narcissistic urges and insecurities because this is how power over others has always been gained? And that previous generations were no less wrapped up in false realities created by controlling social propaganda for the profit of the few (religion being the obvious historical example).

    • Pastabagel says:

      The general thinking on this is that the rise of the culture of narcissism began with mass media but really dominated with television in the postwar era. This was the first time there was a cultural force powerful and invasive enough to interfere directlyin the family dynamic with the message that desires should be met and satisfied rather than suppressed or postponed. What is happening now is that mass media is no longer the dominant cultural force for the millennial generation, social media is.

      • squid says:

        But, where did we, as millennials, learn how and what to desire? The same place as generation X: it was TV, pop music, street-advertising, etc, etc. If social media replaces television as our dominant cultural force, where does our culture come from? Where does it gain some kind of substance, if all the content is completely user-generated?

        I guess the hypothesis is that we are growing up in the wake, or perhapse fallout, of generation X, that we are stuck in a culture created by and for our parents, that we are (as the comment below by michaelhockenhul implies) void of anything unique and distinctive as a generation. All I have to say, and don’t take this the wrong way, I mean it with love, but, if you didn’t notice our revolution, then it wasn’t for you.

        • michaelhockenhull says:

          Every generation must make its own culture in conflict with the one that preceeded it. So every genertation is in the wake of another.

          The revolution may or may not have been for me :) but any revolution is repositioning something “new” according to something “old.” Hollowood may suck for making remakes all the time, but western society has re-used the Greeks from day one.

          There is a threat that media might overpower the newer generation, and then that generation would have failed. But I believe it unlikely. Social media gains its substance from the same sources that all other media has: the past (mixed with new creativity). Social media isn’t the problem, it’s a lack of history.

          • squid says:

            Indeed, awesome post. But, threat of media being overpowering? We are eyeballs deep. Its utterly pervasive. Have we failed already? How can a generation ‘win’ / ‘succeed’? If that’s the battle ground, we already lost, I assure you…

            But I think, we (as much as anyone can ever say anything about an entire generation) don’t have that element of conflict, that our rebellion, if it is anything at all, is against the whole idea of what rebellion has come to mean withing our culture…? We have, what, almost a century years of pop-culture rebellion to draw on, and, as far as I can tell, we just cba. We grew up watching adverts that are more psychedelic than anything you could experience on psychedelic drugs, listening to violent, anti-establishment music that sold to us by billion-pound corporations and hundreds of hours of endless Friends reruns, a show about 30-somethings that was mostly created when we were, what, 5 – 15 years old? What is there even to rebel against? If thats what we have to ‘reposition’ in order to make space for something new of our own, why bother? It’s position was alread old, it seems to have been purposfully already old when it was made. Perhapse it all meant something to somebody, but no one that I know.

            But, maybe thats how everyone feels in their early 20’s? I mean, perhaps your right, that our generation is lacking in… something… But only relative to…something… that we have been told that previous generations apparently ‘had’. And who told us that?

            Its not a lack of history, I don’t think; if anything, its an overproximity of history. we are burned out on history. ‘Now, then, whatever, whats next?’

  5. michaelhockenhull says:

    Isn’t the difference between the Gen X and Millennial generation shift, compared with all previous generation shifts, technology? The technology, both media (ubiquity), production-wise (CGI) and economic/market technology (finding and capitalizing upon markets) enable the Gen X to more keenly broadcast their nostalgia.

    Previous generation shifts have also, no doubt, been about a young vs. old dichotomy of whose values and aesthetics to follow. But then the young would break into new frontiers or openly rebel against their elders.

    Now however, economics/marketing connects products with those with the most money at a more readily pace = production aims for the old. And media makes the images of these products all-pervasive and unavoidable, even for the younger generation. Not to mention that the degree of media exposure may even make the younger generation come to “own” the older generations tastes and products.

    I know many many 20-somethings who love all the recent Marvel remakes. This coincides with the fact that they may have watched it when they were kids. But the feeling that a 20-something gets from those movies is, I suspect, very distinct from what a 40yo experiences when he watches it.

    All of this not to say that the millennial generation won’t/don’t have their own rebellion. The signs aren’t that promising though.

  6. eqv says:

    Lots of people my age haven’t been on, say, Facebook long enough to really get nostalgic about it. Instead the nostalgia is directed towards the old & dead social networking sites that we all had as young teenagers: MySpace, Bebo etc. Sort of like, ‘oh look at these trashy pictures with things written on them in MS Paint, look at this inept HTML coding, oh we were so young, such idiots, etc….”

    I’m really interested to see if Facebook is going to be here for good, or if it will eventually be replaced by something newer & slicker, like what it did to MySpace. I think Facebook is a colossal waste of time and I think it promotes some strange thinking about how people view themselves and how they view other people as viewing them. But even then I find it hard to stay away. It’s hard to quit crack when everyone around you is high.