About this curation thing

This is not a good week to be calling yourself a curator. (Um, please don’t read the description of this site in the left column.) I’m fully aware of the irony of posting a pull quote from Mitch Goldstein’s Formally Concerned, but here goes anyway:

The result of this are blogs full of nothing but other people’s stuff. Pages and pages of other peoples photographs, designs, videos, etc. This is not inherently bad, but what I get curious about is how this affects how people go about making their own work — is there room to think about something new if your mind is filled with everything else? Probably, but I would not discount the distraction of seeing an endless stream of externalized, decontextualized imagery.

I imagine the natural reaction to my opinion of this is that these Tumblr blogs act as inspiration, as a scrapbook of ideas. I question this as well, since I think true inspiration comes from the questions you ask yourself, not from constantly looking at how other people answered their own questions. I hope that the reblogging and reposting of other peoples’ work — and reblogging other peoples’ rebloggings, ad infinitum — does not take the place of actual creativity. I mean, finding cool stuff and posting it sort of feels like you are making something, right? Tumblr can provide an illusion of creation — I wonder what people would make if they were not busy making this illusion?

I’ve actually written about this before as well in the context of the “post-literate society”:

I believe [sites like Pinterest and Instagram] give users the illusion that they’re creating something without the necessary work that is required to make something good. Sharing pictures is effortless. And if we know anything about online behavior, it’s that people hate doing actual work when they can just click a button instead.

This, of course, comes off the back of Choire Sicha’s rant against people who use the word ‘curation’:

You are no different from some teen in Indiana with a LiveJournal about cutting. Sorry folks! You’re in this nasty fray with the rest of us. And your metaphor is all wrong. More likely you’re a low-grade collector, not a curator. You’re buying (in the attention economy at least! If not in the actual advertising economy of websites!) what someone else is selling””and you’re then reselling it on your blog. You’re nothing but a secondary market for someone els’s work.

I’m obviously conflicted about this, because a lot of what I do on this site is what’s considered link-blogging, adding a little bit of context and additional thought when needed. I certainly won’t call that “creating”, but I also don’t understand why there’s such a big backlash against this type of activity.

The first advice writers always give other writers is, read more. So I am comfortable with my approximately 70/30 split between posting links and writing longer, original pieces. I don’t think I’d be able to write the 30% if I didn’t spend the other 70% finding and reading great content — and why shouldn’t I share that with you? As long as the 70/30 split doesn’t become a 100/0 split, I’ll keep doing this.

On this particular issue I’m much more in agreement with Erin Kissane’s viewpoint in Bloggers and Bowerbirds:

We should stop treating the web like it’s zero-sum and start treating each other like colleagues. When people like Popova and Roth-Eisenberg show up and offer a standard, our response should not be to freak out about them wanting in on “our” cultural capital. Respecting the work of discovery doesn’t detract from respect for the work of creators. There is not a limited supply of civility and respect, so let’s stop being dicks about this stuff.

Preach it, Erin.