How curators are thriving in the digital age

It might still conjure up an image of a spectacled, tweed-clad type rummaging through a dusty museum archive.

But in this age of digital saturation, the role of the humble curator is being reinvented.

With a multitude of literary offerings now appearing online every second, the need to separate the wheat from the chaff has become greater than ever.

In many ways, a curator’s work resembles that of a journalist: selecting what is important or remarkable out of an amorphous mass.

Many curators on the Internet labour out of love. In this way, they present an antidote to the journalist’s tendency to simply reinforce the consensus, by writing about subjects proven to generate clicks or the ideas closest to their editors’ hearts.

Curators can afford to be choosy about the work they promote; their selections don’t necessarily have to appeal to the masses.

One of my favourite curators of that kind is Ana Kinsella. She’s an Irish fashion journalist based in London who runs a Tumblr account called A Week’s Clicks. It features a wonderful selection of links to writing she’s enjoyed that week. Sometimes she teases readers with an arresting quote; other times she posts a short summary of what a piece is about. I always end up reading and enjoying writing I wouldn’t otherwise have stumbled upon.

Maria Popova of  BrainPickings is a curator of a different kind. Some of you might remember she previously featured in my list of favourite female bloggers. She curates centuries of ideas within literature, science and philosophy in exquisitely written posts. Her curation is unique in linking the thoughts of people separated by time, geography and discipline. In her case in particular, curation is very much an act of creation.

Curation can serve a highly practical purpose too. Posts like this one, which lists the best Websites for getting a free education can save you hours of Googling.

Like all Internet crazes, curation has of course turned commercial too. And no site has better exploited the need to restore online order than BuzzFeed.

While its profit-driven curation is less noble than that of the beaver-like individuals who undertake -simply for the love of it  – the sifting so others don’t have to,  the site’s enormous success reflects the huge demand for curation in the digital age.

Admittedly, our need for someone to summarise the Internet has taken on absurd dimensions too.

At time of writing, BuzzFeed’s homepage features the following articles:  19 pictures that will change your mind about frizzy hair, 19 dogs that are prettier than the views they’re looking at  and my personal favourite: 15 hilarious tweets that accurately sum up working at a call Center.

Have you got any favorite curators? Let me know in the comments!

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Is the Internet making you more tolerant?

For those of us who work, shop, socialize, bank and even date online, it’s next to impossible to overestimate the effect the Internet has had on our lives. In the places it’s reached, the online revolution has transformed economies and enabled mass communication in ways that seemed inconceivable before.  Economists say that if the internet were a sector, it would be worth more than agriculture. But has the internet changed the way we view the world too?  In particular, has it made us more tolerant?cropped-blogpic.jpg

I checked out some research to find out what scientists have to say on the subject.

  • In 2003, the remote Pacific island of Niue became the first country in the world to offer nationwide free wi-fi.  Almost a decade later, Swedish business student Ludvig Foghammar traveled there to find out whether using the internet was making the islanders more or less tolerant. He monitored the hours inhabitants were spending online and gave them a questionnaire to assess their tolerance.He found that those who used the internet for more than an hour a day scored higher on overall measurements of tolerance. But the findings couldn’t establish a causal link between Internet use and tolerance. After all, people who spent longer online may have been more tolerant in the first place.
  •  In another study published last year, Japanese researchers controlled for a tolerant predisposition when measuring the relationship between internet use and tolerance of foreigners. Their findings supported the link between internet use and social tolerance, even when they controlled for other variables like existing contact with foreigners.
  • Exposure to and acceptance of other belief systems (a key feature of tolerance) on the Internet may also be causing us to abandon our own set of religious convictions. An analysis of two decades worth of data by computer scientist Allen B. Downey led him to conclude that “internet use decreases the chance of religious affiliation.”

These findings might not strike many as particularly surprising.  After all, any repository of easily accessible information is likely to broaden the mind and turn us away from a prescriptive world view.

But is that really how we use the Internet? A cursory glance at the comments section beneath almost any YouTube video or news article shows little sign of tolerance flourishing online.

Many internet users have seized the opportunity of hiding behind an avatar to disseminate their own particular messages of hate. The phenomenon of cyber-bullying gained mainstream media coverage after the 2010 death of teenager Tyler Clementi who killed himself after his flatmate secretly filmed him kissing a man and then released the footage online.

Equally, hate groups made up of xenophobes, misogynists and even terrorists find like-minded company online, often using technology to gain new recruits.

After the Arab Spring, academics engaged in a fiery debate about which had come first: the medium or the message. While some credited social media with mobilizing protesters to come out in force, others argued that its use simply corresponded with a change in attitudes that was occurring offline.

In his speech accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, French author J. M. G. Le Clézio  presented a particularly optimistic view of the internet: “Who knows, if the internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler’s criminal plot would not have succeeded – ridicule might have prevented it from ever seeing the light of day.”

In a week that’s seen terrorist group Islamic State release a fifth video of a beheading online and an eminent astrophysicist publicly burst into tears after the shirt he was wearing during a historic moment in space history caused a #shirtstorm, that view may seem utopian.

I’m on the fence. Have we become more or less tolerant since going online? Post your thoughts below!