Other people’s stuff

Last year, when I was preparing the talk that became "The opportunity in abundance", I had a notion to photograph every book we owned. I planned to use the pictures as backdrops to illustrate (on a personal level) the notion of abundance.

Some of the pictures did make it into the final presentation, but many more did not. Part of that was practical: I used only only 20 or so images in the final version, and many of those illustrated various concepts.

But part of it was sobering: our house has over a hundred feet of bookshelves, all full. There are more books than I could ever include in a presentation, even spine out (as they were).

Still, the limited use of these pictures of books spurred interest and conversation. After giving the talk, a couple of people noted that I owned (and had hopefully read) a book that was a favorite of theirs. I also heard of a conversation that debated whether I had arranged the books to convey a related message (the answer is no, but it's a great idea).

I got to thinking about this after reading a New York Times Sunday magazine article that appeared a couple of weeks ago. Describing Pinterest and Tumblr as tools people can use for "collecting beautiful things and using them as a way to express who they are to the world", author Carina Chocano navigated a timeline of her own, from magazines and dream houses to her online universe of sites like Apartment Therapy, Poppytalk and others.

In her piece, Chocano considered whether the content these kinds of sites present is "curated". She quotes Choire Sicha, co-editor of The Awl, forcefully arguing that personally defined collections are not curation:

“As a former actual curator, of like, actual art and whatnot, I think I’m fairly well positioned to say that you folks with your blog and your Tumblr and your whatever are not actually engaged in a practice of curation. Call it what you like: aggregating? Blogging? Choosing? Copyright infringing sometimes? But it’s not actually curation, or anything like it.”

I get the point. It's too easy to pin a picture, add a link or present something you've found to call it capital-C Curation. If you're a former actual curator, you're inclined to believe that kind of thing should be hard.

In Here Comes Everybody (2008), Clay Shirky noted "Every webpage is a latent community. Each page collects the attention of people interested in its contents, and those people might well be interested in conversing with one another too."

Of course, in the same book Shirky observed "Arguments about whether new forms of sharing or collaboration are, on balance, good or bad reveal more about the speaker than the subject".

As more of our content consumption migrates from physical to digital, the conversations that once started with a visitor checking out your bookshelf or record collection move, too. In April, I riffed on a post by Craig Mod to suggest that "To be offline means in part to not exist." Maybe the result is not curated, but what's the point of culture if it's locked inside a building?

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.