Definition of Curate:
1. select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition)
2. select, organize, and present (online content, merchandise, information, etc.), typically using professional or expert knowledge:
Now I know next to nothing about the art world. Nor that of rare books. But I do know that back before perhaps the late Naught years, as far as I knew the word “curator” was essentially utilized in these fields of artistic expression, and required a certain sense of professionalism- certainly expertise- in order to be attached to an individual.
Then the invisible forces of Colloquialism landed upon this little word and began adopting and co-opting this notion of “curation” in other arenas. Suddenly, my hipstery upper middle class Westside white world was filled with curators.
The local wine stores weren’t stocked with wines from knowledgable owners any longer- they became curated. Book stores, sandwich shops, cafes, gift shops, high-end bakeries…the pot dealership down the way—suddenly all run by curators. Not only the high-end clothing boutiques, but my favorite thrift shops and consignment stores were helmed by them. Indeed, I myself was referred to as the ‘curator’ of my own in-house part time vintage clothing business by friends and customers.
Somehow, the use of this term never really bothered me back then. Just another slippery little redefinition being bandied about.
Until recently when I caught a short NPR news commentary on the radio and heard ”Curate” oh-so-appropriately attached to a whole different realm of human interaction- social media.
The brief news piece involved some sort of German study on Facebook and Facebook users. Age ranges, amount of time aboard, type of interactions, and emotional responses to these interactions, etc.
First of all, turns out- not surprisingly for those of us with teen and pre-teen kids - Facebook is sooo not happening for the youngsters. Less and less Millennials are signing up for and/or using FB. They find the SM format increasingly unappealing, and tend to gravitate more toward Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat where info is more terse, more easily digestable, and at times immediately disposable. AFAIK. Lol.
Secondly, (and I digress a bit from topic to illustrate what I found to be an intuitive point) --for those of us old Crusties who climb aboard Facebook quite often- there are two types of interactions as laid out by this German study: Interactive users are ‘liking,’ commenting, posting their own status, sharing files, etc. This type of interaction tends to make the user feel more connected. Happy. Plugged in. Whereas the other type of interaction- the lurker- just browses. Behaving more like a wallflower observer at the dance, this type of user browses through others’ vacation photos, family/friend events, reads strings of comments without adding voice to the melee, and can feel increasingly depressed or disconnected as a result.
As someone who’s used Facebook in both ways, and has experienced both sets of resultant feelings, I find this information to be, if not revelatory, than certainly validating.
But back to the curation of it all.
Perhaps it was Terry Gross, perhaps Ann Litt- I cannot now recall who presented this story, but she began discussing the pressure we all perhaps feel in this world of social media to sort of “curate” our LIVES, as it were. Wherever photos of one exists--quotes, comments, reviews, etc etc- the need to “select, organize and look after the items” falls upon us all.
We are now all curators. Curators of the presentation of our own lives and selves as we appear on the internet.
Now for me, this curation is not a new thing at all. Back in 2000 when I was just finishing up my first album, to be released and promoted by me and for me- my first truly independent musical work- I immediately procured the rights to hollylong.com. I was connecting to as many online music sites as I could find to throw my work out there into the cloudy atmosphere (before there was a Cloud.) At the behest of some other indie music friends, I was one of the first people I knew to start up a Myspace page. And then subsequently a Facebook page, Reverbnation page.. blah blah.
It was very clear that the old pillars of the music industry were crumbling- giving way to the brave new world that was online promotion. If you wanted to survive at ALL as a musician trying to break your music to the world, you needed to interact with the online community. You needed to be present and active and continue to show up. That’s still true. As the years have gone by, and I’ve piled up a few more albums in my arsenal, I’ve found myself muddling through Twitter and You Tube and Google Plus and Ilike, trying to discover the magic balance between what feels authentic to display vs. the gaping maw of insatiable hunger our impersonal communal internet is made of…
To be honest, somewhere back in 2010, immediately after promoting album number 4, I just sort of stopped. I dropped the ball on curating the fascinating, up-to-the-minute, ever-evolving life of the artist Holly Long. I never stopped being the artist, I just got weary of curating her.
So now it seems- this task appears to be much more of a universal online thing. Since the maturation of Facebook, and the enormity of usership has found us all thriving on the connections we have with one another. Which seems like a good thing, right? And yet somehow this reality of each one of us having to become personal curators fills me with an eerie sense of dread.
OK. So we must consider the source here. I am one of the grumbly troglodytes who went kicking and screaming into my iphone’s IOS 7 transformation last year. Which I still resent. I currently use my dusty oversized paper desk calendar year after year. Despite the mounting number of coffee rings and unidentifiable stains which accumulate as the year progresses, this large lo-tech device continues to prove itself invaluable in keeping me organized. I like books made of paper. I wear clothing made in the 80’s. I listen to a lot of old LP’s and find myself explaining to friends in a mealymouthed manner over and over again that I am the last person to ask about hip new music.
So it would stand to reason that I have a little chip on my shoulder when it comes to progress. I am a chick who digs her vintage. And who feels the need to wallow around in those past energies and past sets of feelings as if this particular present plane of existence isn’t nearly as vibrant or rich with life.
However, I think it’s not so much that I don’t want to move forward or feel as though I and the rest of “us” and “the world” are progressing….I’m just very skeptical that what we deem “progress” really is “progress” all the time. And so I’m a wee bit scared.
Alright. I said it. I’m scared. It’s slightly scary to think that we humans feel the compulsive need to curate bits and pieces of our lives in order to present the most attractive, engaged, happy, plugged-in sort of versions of ourselves all the time. Something about that seems false, and therefore not healthy. Not good for us. Not wholesome. You know- like filler, but something that never really properly fills.
Now, I’m all for waving the flag when you’ve got it. But I must say- I really don’t always have the flag. In fact, much of the time I don’t. I am not a consistently curated piece of work which revolves around an interesting gravitational theme. I am authentically filled with bumps and jags and inconsistencies.
I find life to be a rich nuanced concoction of crazy beautiful coincidences mixed with dully mundane buckets of melancholy. Atop rickety structures of social mores and attempts to do right and be present and make small differences in a good way. I am not hitting the marks so much of the time. I am just putting one foot in front of the other and trying as an artist not to feel completely invisible, and trying as a person to make the most out of my relationships and trying as a human being to be as conscious as possible so I can leave this place ever so slightly better than I found it.
And I’m unclear as to how the incessant curating is going to actually bring what my shrink and I have come to believe I’m looking for out of life: “Good feelings that last.” In fact, if anything- I think all the manic attention toward building and maintaining online persona does the opposite. Good feelings that don't last. And/or worse- Empty feelings that do.
As I type this, my gaze is averted over to the right hand side of my screen where an additional open online window has some sort of movable American Apparel ad running across the top. Cute white 20 something girl with long hair and nothing on except black fingerless gloves—which is the apparel-du-jour they are apparently advertising. There’s four pictures of her in these gloves moving at rapid speed from right to left across the top of my screen in what would perhaps be a continual day and night stream were I to keep that window open.
I suppose that’s a lovely image to end this here rant.
The ongoing stream of information never stops. Will never stop. And our need to engage in it has now become primal, as the online world has become so endemic of who we are as people in any one of our present-day worldwide cultures. In this complex world where “survival” has outgrown merely food and clothing for most of us lucky ones…we must appear online in some way in order to feel here and present.
Which requires the continual growth of new muscles of curation. Ever expanding new skillz.
I am left here to wonder, however, at the outcome of all our meticulous curating. These online people we become and present ourselves as day in and day out- are they to become the real ones, while our actual human forms fade away in presence as the mere place holders?
God knows, my real form is so much less appealing in many ways than the virtual me-- more vulnerable and unpredictable, less easy to package in some tidy box of quirky adjectives…
Speaking of. I’m off to wash it. This body of mine still clad in PJs with only two cups of coffee, half a fried egg and a Granny Smith apple fueling it for breakfast.
…Left side of my cheek very slightly swollen from yesterday afternoon when, while in a writing session, I inadvertently rammed my face into the electric tele I was attempting to sling up and over myself to play.
…Lower left abdominal muscle twitching in a very irritating tickly way leaving me to wonder, have I eaten enough potassium lately? Maybe a banana is in my future.
…Ah- and now I’m leaning over to turn off the computer to notice the little piece of crud that lives on the &/7 key above the alphabet. What IS that? How long has it BEEN there? Why is it this strange shade of dark orange??