Deaccessioning friends and Intel’s “Museum of Me”

A glib exchange on Twitter this morning left a far greater impression on me than it should have when Bruce Wyman tweeted about Intel’s new Museum of Me. In what was almost certainly trolling, Bruce mentioned his appreciation for the MoM and I couldn’t help but take the bait. My reply touched on the fact that the MoM makes poor choices in deciding which friends to highlight in it’s so-called “journey of a visualization that explores who I am”, to which Bruce replied:

This response, strangely reminiscent of something from The Importance of Being Earnest, stuck with me and gnawed at the edges of my brain. Was Bruce right? Should I start deaccessioning my friends until the MoM became more accurate? The Museum’s multimedia display was strangely lacking too where I’d failed to input data about my favourite tv shows and movies. Should I work harder to fill in the gaps in the digital collection of my life, to ensure that my exhibition stayed up-to-date with all the latest trends? I started to consider that maybe I needed a collections management policy for the digital me.

I’m sure by now you can see why I was concerned. It’s not that the MoM is a soulless and narcissistic paean to the culture of me-ism. It’s that its ‘me’ is wrong. It’s cobbled together from the leftover remnants of digital interactions, the little communicative gifts bestowed on my facebook page. And in some ways, that means that it’s just like a real museum collection. After all, museums frequently begin with an act of benefaction – a gift to a city or a university from a private citizen whose personal collecting biases inform that collection for perpetuity. Further gifts will continue to shape the collection, and so-called gaps are often only filled when their absence becomes prominent. And so although I can probably shape the message of the MoM to make it more indicative of who I am, it will take quite a bit work and there are limitations… after all, explaining to my friends that I have to deaccession them so that my MoM collection more fully reflects who I am might be a little tough. Though they might understand the problem because no doubt they all have their own MoM too.

Of course, if I was to look at each of their MoM, I’d probably be in for a fairly cold experience. By necessity (let’s be honest, it is just a quirky marketing ploy) the MoM takes a one-size-fits all approach to exhibition design and collection management. The gallery space isn’t exactly tailored to different people with different interests, needs and wants, so it’s no surprise that it can’t be all things to all people. And even more critically, without the memories and stories of my friends to animate their MoM, any pleasure that could be derived from the experience would be superficial at best.

The whole MoM experience reminds me of this post on the Interactive blog. Regan Forrest writes of her experiences preparing design proposals, and says that many of the stock portfolio images:

depicted beautifully finished, perfectly lit, crisp, clean . . . empty spaces. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for projects where the aesthetic was a big part of the whole point (fine art exhibitions for instance). But I felt they really sold interactive spaces short – even the most interactive and engaging exhibition in the world looks sterile and passive without visitors there to breathe life into it.

Which is the very point. The MoM ultimately fails for me because it is nothing more than a sterile approximation at representation, but it’s still worth thinking about for the perspective it brings.

4 thoughts on “Deaccessioning friends and Intel’s “Museum of Me”

  1. No trolling intended when I originally tweeted. I genuinely found MoM to be an interesting reflection of my FB presence. As I toured MoM, I saw little bits that made me smile, and things that made me happy, and a few blank spots (I haven’t uploaded videos; I saw a lot of test patterns, but that also made me chuckle).

    In my assorted social media presences, I’ve only ever followed people that I actually know, friended people that meant something to me, and linked to people who are colleagues. It’s not that I’m trying to be reclusive, but I’m treating these digital connections and managing them like I do the rest of the world. Just because we can collect every bit of digital detritus and pick up every scrap that someone else drops doesn’t mean that it’s good, or more importantly, manageable.

    I was being sincere in my tweet about MoM being a buddhist like reflection of yourself. There’s no attempt on their part at being selective (and, knowing how the tech worked, I didn’t expect it (and maybe this was all better because my expectations were low to begin with)). What appears in your museum is simply what’s there on FB. It’s simply what you’ve collected or chosen to acquire randomly reflected back at you. It’s honest, if nothing else. It’s what an outsider could see without context.

    So there’s the beauty of museum work. We’re providing context for a big pile o’ stuff. Someone says why that particular thing is special. Someone gives some insight into what the original creator was thinking or doing. Museums peel back the curtain for people that are curious (or they should be doing it). MoM worked for *me* because I was mentally providing the context for the things that I saw. And, it reminded me of things — people, places, and memories — that aren’t in the forefront of my mind.

    As a scrapbook of things special to me, it worked better than I’d expected.

  2. How interesting. It was the response about it being a Buddhist-like reflection of who you were that made me feel that you had been insincere, because it was so radically different from the way I had experienced it. I had originally thought you were being genuine, but that left me puzzled.

    Having said that, I do question the honesty of the collection without context, because not only did it not reflect my real relationships, but it seemed to fail to highlight my real online relationships – those people who I interact with most on fb. But you are right, my collection of people online are those whom I find interesting and who I want further contact with, but also those with whom there is an obligation to maintain contact. And so my collection grows for a multitude of reasons, some personal and some political, which is probably true of all collections. Even the backyard collector of milk tins would collect some with love and affection, and some because the object fills out an important aspect of the collection in other ways.

    Having said that, I apologise for the inference that your reflection was not a genuine one. When I posted this, I initially spent a bit of time looking for the article that was posted on a few news sites about the way people cannot accurately read emotion and intention online, wanting to link it to the bit where I implied you might have been trolling, because I wasn’t sure. What I was sure about however, was that the interaction left me deliberating on my experience with the MoM, and why it didn’t captivate me. And thus this post was born.

  3. Hi Suse,

    Thanks for linking to my blog and thereby making me aware of MoM.

    Like you, I found some of the selections a bit of an odd choice, given the people I interact with most on FB. But then I’m not really what I’d call a heavy FB user – I prefer the immediacy of Twitter and that is my main social media avenue. (I use FB mostly to organise social gatherings among groups of friends, and post the odd set of photos which I think friends might be interested in)

    It would be interesting to see how different types of FB users relate to the representation on MoM. Are the heavy users more likely to see their reflected selves (by the law of averages), or those who carefully select their friends and their uploads? Maybe the eclectic mix I saw is a reflection of the slightly haphazard way I use FB.

    But you are right – inadvertently or otherwise, the MoM does show the danger of presentation in the absence of context – you see the value of interpretation most when it is completely missing. An interesting case study.


    1. Ha. I have only just really come around to the darkside of Twitter after being a very Facebook oriented user for quite some time. I think any medium for connection is only useful for the way with which it does or doesn’t connect you to your social circles, and for a long time, that was fb for me, but is becoming less so as I and my relationships change.

      I just walked out of an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about the MoM, and the idea of deaccessioning friends. We were talking about the fact that most studies seem to indicate that people really only have a circle of about 150 people with whom they really connect and communicate at any one time, and that in order to make room for new relationships, old ones often have to slide. But our electronic collections can be far more broadly reaching than that, and so our web and network can include more than just our closest circles, but the concentric circles that continue from there – and I suppose the MoM probably reflects those.

      But yes, without context, interpretation can be very difficult to come by.

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