Alden’s ITP Home

Museum of Now

Whenever I imagine the world of the medium-term future looking back on the current time, say 75-100 years from now, which I do reasonably often, I imagine an intense future regret for now. It’s a hard emotion to put into words. Maybe a kind of warm nostalgia combined with disgust, the way many Americans now view the 1950s, but mixed in with the sense that this time, the early 20XXs, was a time when wrong choices were made willfully in the face of evidence pointing toward right choices. Choices about climate change, about openness, about global collaboration. Choices about who to trust and when, about the nature of truth, about the structure of institutions.

This is a high level view but any grand political vision of a time colors the view we have of the people living within it. When I think of the 1950s in America, for example, I think of repressed housewives and emotionally distant husbands in the suburbs, a middle class boom, alienation, melodramas, white flight, pastels, tomato aspic, the Beat Generation poets, Jim Crow laws and lynching, and authoritatively totalizing yet oddly chipper male television narrators. All of this I put together with my little 1950s narrative, a story of Cold War anxieties, fear and wonder at atomic modernity, the homogenizing steamroller of culture that people believed modern life would usher in, all creating a deep rooted fear of the Other, any and every Other, a fear that expressed itself in a million ways across society.

What then can we say about the current moment? High level of anxiety of future calamity, mistrust of institutions, social fracturing, the same old alienation. Our cultural lives a slick gloss of chain stores and direct to consumer retail brands, a fast casual reality. Flat pack IKEA furniture. An Amazon Echo Dot for company. Authenticity has been the craze of the day in American life for the past 20 years or so, people lurching about for community, for identity, for “realness”. A wall placard saying “Many millennials found meaning in artisanal goods”. How to reproduce the low grade anxiety of not having enough social media presence in a museum context, of the unreality of virtual space?

With any luck no online social network around today will still exist 100 years from now, let’s be hopeful and say they’ve been outlawed, I’m tickled at the idea of a Museum of Digital Social Networks (MODSN). An exhibit dedicated to the different UI changes, bits about timelines. Imagine having to unpack @realDonaldTrump for a general audience in 2118. Collections of the most engaged with Tweets all displayed on a large wall in the museum’s entrance hall, interactive VR exhibits that place you in the role of minor Youtube celebrity trying to score a big sponsorship. A timeline of major Twitch streamers and the video games they played. I think it’d be a big draw, I might pocket this idea for my heirs. Moreover I think it would get at the central zeitgeist of of 2018, help humanize our time for posterity, much in the same way that hearing about rotting garbage in the streets humanizes the lives of late 19th century New Yorkers in our modern minds.