Thoughts on the “Deep Nostalgia” App

As an artist, writer and researcher who works with historic and family photos, I have seen a lot of buzz around the MyHeritage “Deep Nostalgia” app. I had a strong aversion to it upon first reaction, but tried it out “just once” before passing judgment.

And…I am still uneasy with it. It is not for me. I uploaded a random photo to animate, and I won’t post the results here because honestly while the technology was great, I found the result to be creepy.

How to make creative projects around historical photos is something that I think about a lot; not just in terms of “what can I do that’s cool?” but also, “how can I do something cool that also honors the subject?” To me, it is a fine line to enhance what is in the photo and bring out the natural beauty and interest of a person or scene without editorializing too much or adding meaning or context that is wildly different. Especially when the subject is a private citizen vs. a public figure. If I haven’t failed at this already, I’m sure I will eventually. But, I do try. Also, the “Deep Nostalgia” gestures are pretty controlled, but where does it stop? Will the next “Deep Nostalgia” app include the ability to make someone’s beloved Nana do silly dances, make rude gestures or say things they would never say? Who knows?! And what about the artists and photographers whose work is changed by the app without their input or consent?

I’m sure the “Deep Nostalgia” functionality was built with the best of intentions and is in some ways even healing for those who are grieving or seeking connection to the past. But it is important to be careful and remember that a photograph isn’t a person, and even the best-quality animation of a photograph won’t give you that connection. What you seek lives in your heart, in memories, in the stories that are passed down from other family or community members. In A Grief Observed, CS Lewis cautions against “substitut(ing) for the real woman a mere doll.” I agree and feel that is a real emotional risk with technology like this.

I do wonder what innovations like these will mean for future historical projects and even estate planning, though. As an artist and writer, I’ll be designating someone to help make sure that if my work lives beyond me, that it is does so in a way that is in line with my values and wishes. I imagine that holograms, AI and other emerging tech will add another layer to that for more people who aren’t necessarily creative professionals, as more of our images and words are more likely to resurface over time.

This opinion was written from a creator’s point of view, but there are also data and privacy issues to consider, which I encourage you to research and draw your own conclusions on before using the app.

The app and buzz around it has me thinking about different and more authentic/ethical ways to use design or technological innovation for creative ancestry and history projects. I’ll think on this and share some options here or in next month’s newsletter. (Or both!)