The Culture of Curation

This is the type of blog post I don’t like to write because basically all I’m doing is complaining about something.   In my world, complaining is the first step in a multipart process.  First you complain, then you look for soluti0ns, then you implement the solutions and finally review the results.  Repeat as necessary.

Essentially it’s the “if you’re not part of the solution your part of the problem” adage, with an add-on of “and if all you want to do is complain and point blame instead of helping, then you’re also sort of an asshole to boot.”

But I digress.

So, yes, admittedly I am being sort of an asshole here because all I am doing is whinging about something I don’t like.  I guess I’ll create a new “GrumpyPants McGee” tag for this post.

But here’s the thing, Gentle Reader, I am bored by the Internet lately.

Of course, this brings me to another Glassmeyer Rule – if you’re bored, it’s because you’re boring.  It’s not the job of the world to entertain you, you need to find things out there that engage your imagination and get you excited.  That is doubly true for the Internet which has an area dedicated to every niche interest imaginable.

Don’t believe me?  Slap two seemingly unrelated words together and google them.  I bet you something comes up.

And then run the same search but put “porn” on the end of it and feel a piece of your soul die.

So, anyway, now that we’ve established the two things I don’t like about this blog post, let me point fingers at others and explain why I have massive feelings of ennui towards the Internet lately.   Granted, I need to make an effort to find the things I like on it, but the thing I like – what excites me – is original creativity and conversation.   I especially love this on the Internet because for the myriad reasons that I’ve discussed here before, in person conversations don’t always work out well for me.   I used to think that I didn’t like people.  Not true.  I love people!  They’re fascinating.   It’s just too hard for me to deal with them in person.

I guess it all started about 10 years ago with the rise of blogs and Web 2.0.  I LOVED BLOGS.   They could be what essentially amounted to someone’s personal journal to a series of essays on Important Topics of the Day or anything really. I loved reading a piece of thought by someone and then resultant conversation in the comments.   But mostly it was about seeing what people think.  But it’s a lot of work to maintain a blog. As perhaps evidenced by the fact that I can barely be arsed to write more than one post a month here.

Then social networks became big and that was great because it’s a lot easier to post a status message or link to a news article than write up a blog post about what you’re doing and thinking.   Thus began the slippery slope into what I call the Culture of Curation, where the back and forth and complex thought development began to end and people began to substitute snapshots of existence for actual being.

(They also allow for a laziness in social interaction where “friending” someone on these sites and occasionally liking or commenting on something they post starts to substitute for other more  meaningful conversations and interactions.  But that’s a slightly different rant for a different day.)

I first noticed a real decline in quality of interaction with the Facebook like button. (Which actually was first developed on FriendFeed, I believe.)   Instead of commenting and interacting with someone based on what they post, you can get away with just “liking” it.  And since there is the only option of “liking”, you get weird situations where someone posts that their parent died and dozens of people liking the post as an offer of sympathy.  They probably don’t actually LIKE  the fact that the person has had a loss, but that’s all that’s available unless they want to make the effort of typing “I’m sorry.”  Which is clearly too much for some people.

Facebook has also developed “check ins” that, similar to FourSquare and other location based web 2.0 services, allow for people to announce that they are at a place or event.   Which is somewhat interesting to see when it’s a “big” event like a conference or somewhere noteworthy like a national monument or even kind of fun when you see a few of your friends together.  But when you check in every day at the same gas station?  I really don’t care.    And now there’s GetGlue where people “check in” to a tv show, movie or book.  That really makes me want to scream.  All you’re telling me is that you are sitting on your couch watching something – do you like it? Is it interesting? Tell me something that you think about it! Please!

I feel like people are curating their lives now via social media check ins and status updates.  How often have you been to a conference or other meeting of people that you usually interact with online and they spend the entire time posting updates about the meet-up online?  Or seen people posting vacation photos on facebook while still on vacation?  There’s now a filter that everything has to pass through before people can actually enjoy an experience.

And now there’s the actual curation websites like Tumblr and Pinterest where people don’t even have to come up with a witty line to say about something they want to share on the Internet and, more distressingly, the ability to hold a conversation about something posted on these sites is very very difficult.   Granted, there is a talent to curation – that’s what librarians do, after all – but for me, anyway, finding a excellent collection of something is only baseline interesting.  I want to know WHY someone pinned something. WHAT do they like about it?  I want to say what I find interesting about it.

You know, I’m not perfect.  I fully admit that I am guilty of doing the above, although I am trying very much to limit it, especially how often I experience my own life through a filter of reactions from a Web 2.0 community.  But communication and interaction are a two way street and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find people who are able to actually hold a one-on-one conversation or experience something without it being in the full view of the Internet.

Image credit: Me


  6 comments for “The Culture of Curation

  1. June 11, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Nice one, Grumpypants! It’s funny to think that “social” media is really mostly about letting people know you’re still alive, a heart monitor blip describing where you are, what you’re doing. There’s a pretty narrow outlet for interacting though. I remember a Twitter “conversation” that ended “this is too difficult to discuss on Twitter” but didn’t surface somewhere else.

    I’m not sure I’m with you on the curating part, though. Much of what people are doing sounds like animal droppings. Sure you can follow them to see where the creature has gone, but the originator isn’t actually doing anything with them. Social media messages are being created for the benefit of the social media companies, who will market and sell the content downstream. I’d feel less bad about that if there was any sense that the individual creating the timeline or wall post or photo upload WAS trying to create their own online history.

  2. Scott Matheson
    June 11, 2012 at 11:45 am

    “All you’re telling me is that you are sitting on your couch watching something – do you like it? Is it interesting? Tell me something that you think about it! Please!”

    Or at least join in with the snarky comments for the benefit of followers without access to basic cable. 🙂

    I’ve been… not bored… less interested? in the intertubes for their own sake (and trust me, I’m the one breaking things mucking about with IPv6 for kicks) but more as a means to an end. I actually went to a real live bookstore looking for a print magazine this weekend. I’m interested in curating across media to cater to my interests. That’s what makes it interesting to me – a collection of print, video, web-clips, evernote scans of ephemera, apps (hmm, could almost be called research). But they’re all in service of me being able to figure out what to do (and do well) with the chicken in the fridge or the box of greens from the CSA.

    By the way, if you’re not watching Bittman’s NYT videos, you’re missing some tasty quick and easy cooking. (And some weird ideas, but, hey, at least they’re interesting.)

  3. Alex
    June 12, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Purely out of spite I attempted to +1 this in Google Reader, but the ole button keeps failing.

    Drats! Foiled again!

  4. Jeff Allen
    June 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    ” Thus began the slippery slope into what I call the Culture of Curation, where the back and forth and complex thought development began to end and people began to substitute snapshots of existence for actual being.”
    I’ll GOOGLE “culture of curation” later, & see what comes up. On the hope that this isn’t derivative, could you please work this idea out some more? Its viral potential is obvious? But I hate when I “sort of get it” and don’t, really. I’d rather see what you think of this before attempting to discuss this further.
    Thanks, at any rate.

  5. June 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the “like” button making people lazy. A few weeks ago I saw a family of ducks crossing the street at a busy intersection, so I took a photo (don’t worry, I also made sure they crossed safely) and posted it on fb with a brief caption. Almost 70 people “liked” my photo, but I was 100 times more interested in the few comments I received, even the ones that just said “cute!” I even replied to a few of the comments and made it into a dialogue – it’s not possible, technically or conceptually, to reply to a “like.”

    Web 2.0 was supposed to be all about conversation, but in the end we’re all just smiling and nodding (and pointing at things) instead of saying anything.

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