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Is curation the new creation?

Is Curation the new Creation?

It used to be that in the old media landscape, the only way to ascend to the top of the pyramid was to be a creator. Inventor. Writer. Painter. Photographer. You had to create something to add value. But with the tools of creation and production becoming cheaper, simpler and more accessible, we’re flooded with the fruits of easy creation: Etsy stores, 3D printing, GarageBand songs, YouTube films, print-on-demand novels, and an ocean of blogs via online publishing software. Tens of thousands of people are now creators, and they’re churning out all kinds of stuff.

Sure, some of it is exceptional, and a few amazing talents have crawled out of these New Creation communities, but the vast majority of these works will probably never rise above the level of Internet meme or flash in the pan. However, this sea change has had an unusual side effect: this gigantic swell of content has given rise to a new, necessary role: The Content Curator. Because we are inundated with so much content and information at this present moment, we need help sifting through everything our culture has to offer. The biggest challenge of our era seems to be navigating this flood of info and creation to find the valuable bits amidst the constant waves. Why, of course, have technologies like DVR and MP3 downloads inserted themselves so quickly into our daily lives? Their popularity is most likely a side-effect of our crucial need to filter, to curate – whether it’s screening out commercials or avoiding album-filler tracks. Modern life almost requires us to winnow all that we process, in order to make sense of the bombardment of data, and carve out our own niches.

And this brings us to the soon-to-be indispensable service role of the 21st century: the content curator. No longer just the province of museum collections or advanced knowledge topics, the role of curation is quickly becoming nearly as important as the content itself. In order to assist in our cultural navigation, many are now seeking out like-minded others to help sort and process this unending flow. It might be a celebrity Twitter stream, a friend’s book reading list or an industry-specific blog. The job descriptions are potentially as varied as the subject matters. And as this content flow increases, so does the popularity of the curators. Oprah has built a media empire on the strength of her role as a gatekeeper, giving out recommendations to an audience hungry for the O-perspective. There are many others.

But can these curators be successful in the long term, without ever creating anything themselves? What kind of value (perceived or otherwise) do they bring? Will this fire hose of content, ripe for the cultivating, dry up some day? Or will content curation become a distributed role, the task for every woman, man and child? Here are a handful of reasons why content curators will continue to thrive, helping us sort and digest far into the future:

Curators help cultivate a shared sensibility.
Connections are made person-to-person, and these bonds come on the heels of some shared interests or insights. Whether it’s a writer whose recommendations you value because you love her writing, or a friend with parallel movie taste, we are all looking for this sort of personal overlap. A sense of common bond, of understanding (real or imagined) drives us to connect ourselves to the thoughts and ideas of others. There’s community in like-mindedness, and when you find someone whose playlists overlap yours, or whose reading list is similar, a bond is formed. These bonds might seem weak, but in an increasingly-fragmented culture, these are important ways we connect and build community.

Curation helps us tell our own exclusion narratives.
It’s much easier to define ourselves by what we are not. “I’m not into that” or “That’s not my type of crowd”. Once we’ve found those we consider to be in our tribe (whether it’s Mad Men viewers or classic gaming aficionados), it’s much easier to appreciate, enjoy and respect their thoughts, patterns and beliefs. They’ve been pre-selected in our head for deeper consideration, which helps us tell our own stories to the world. We see ourselves in the choices of other people, which in turn, colors our perception of the universe around us.

Quantity.
As mentioned above, there is a vast sea of things to choose from – video games, artwork, bands to listen to, articles to read. Our collective rate of creation is far outstripping our ability to consume, so the people and tools that help filter and curate only the things we deem worthy will continue to be popular, important, influential. Simply, our brains either need to be rewired to better filter all that we take in, or we need tools to do the work for us. The tide of info shows no signs of slowing.

Only “the best” will do.
Whether it’s true or not, this is for those of us who Barry Schwartz calls “maximizers”. Many of us want to have the absolute best, the most specific, or the “perfect for me”, whether it’s in Google News, RSS feeds, specific blog selections, Amazon recommendations, or otherwise. There is an underlying unwillingness, in a sea of plenty, to settle for less than the optimum. In a world where we have more and more choices, the desire for the best becomes greater, and the cost for settling grows higher.

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2 Responses to “Is curation the new creation?”

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    Good points to ponder. If I read your first paragraph correctly, the act of creation has been devalued. If that’s so, then no: Curation isn’t the new creation. It’s a new thing that’s better than creation.

    But how new is it? Newspaper publishers have been “curating” the news for centuries — picking and choosing the pieces they think their readers will find useful, and packaging them so that one is emphasized and another isn’t. And if that analogy holds up, what happens when the publisher becomes the newsmaker — or when the curator crosses over the line and becomes the new creator? Maybe that’s the answer to your question of whether the curators can be successful, even though they don’t create.

  2. Tim Lapetino says:

    Hi, Larry. Thanks for the great comment.

    I think you’re right on in many ways, that creation does seem to be less valued now.

    But the analogy to newspapers is a little different, since the papers add a lot of value to the news in writing, reporting, and editing, so I’d probably put them in the class of content creators, with curation being secondary to what they do. Maybe a more apt analogy would be someone who just aggregates already-created news stories, repackaging them in a different way. Google News or Yahoo “front page” spring to mind.

    And to take it another step, newspapers have struggled lately with the twin goals of creating content, but no longer having advertising to subsidize content creation. Many people (like the pure aggregators) are benefiting from all that created content, but fewer and fewer people (subscribers, advertisers) want to shell out their own $$ to pay for that creation of content. So, the question is: What will happen when content creation is no longer a profitable game? What will spring up in its place? Many lesser content creators (“neighborhood reporters”)? Or something else?

    Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

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