I’m really scared for my generation, you know. The thing that scares me most is Tumblr. I hate what Tumblr has become… Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments. It just kills me. Then you’ll meet them and they’re just the biggest turkey in the world. They don’t actually embody any of those things. They just emulate.
Known more for his music than his cultural commentary, Drake is asking something here about the increasingly blurry lines defining the roles of web users. In his New York Times profile of David Karp, Rob Walker explains how the Tumblr founder and CEO has divided the site’s community into three categories: “creators” (those “who post their own photographs, original writing and so on”), “curators” (“who cull, heart and reblog the best of this material for the benefit of the biggest group”) and “consumers” (who… well, consume). But what Drake’s alluding to is a whole other set of user that removes the lines between the three, their role as curators defining how they consume media in the creation of their own online identities.
The difference between the type of curator that Drake is speaking of and those identified in Percolate’s “What is Curation?” video is an important one: While both can lead consumers on a unexpected journey, chasing the white rabbit into previously unexplored corners of the web, the latter actually helps sift through the media abyss, singling out worthwhile information, and often “adding value” by lending context through their own ideas and opinions. The former are rebloggers.
Which isn’t to say that reblogging is worthless. It isn’t. Those who reblog with ambitious regularity often assemble cavernous portfolios of unique and interesting content. But all the same, there is a certain emptiness in living vicariously through other people’s moments, isn’t there? In his article titled “The Naked Appeal of Instagram,” David Carr questions the need for more creators. “On services that allow uploading of big batches of photos, the average number of times a photo is looked at is between one and none,” Carr writes. “People are often too busy producing media content — whether updating Facebook with beautifully filtered Instagram pictures or Tweeting about Naked Cowboys — to consume much of it.” Using the same premise, I question the need for more rebloggers, basking in all the beautiful projections on their Tumblr sites and Pinterest pages, hoping that someone (anyone!) stumbles across them and sees the collection as a reflection of themselves.
Curation is different though.
“Whether in tweets, in blog posts, in podcasts, or in newsletters, be ruthless with your attention. Trim things down to a point where you’re only taking on the most nourishing of writing.” This, I believe, applies to curation as much as it does consumption. The Internet has given everyone a voice, leaving us equally able to curate as we are to consume. Some adopt a strategy of blanket-curation, throwing everything new or fresh or remotely interesting online and letting other consumers make their own value distinctions. Others assume the role of tastemaker, selectively making the decisions themselves. Both have their place, but the former contributes to what Jonathan Haidt calls “the paradox of abundance,” which he says “undermines the quality of our engagement.” How many content-overload websites can you monitor before you become overwhelmed by volume? How many share-explosions does it take before you remove a friend from your Facebook feed? How many Tumblr pages can you pay attention to before the reblogs become a blur?
Thoughtful, honest, and caring curation isn’t entirely different than creation. After all, the topics you choose to research, to blog about, and to discuss with friends all begin with the process of sifting through the media abyss yourself and singling out worthwhile information. So, here’s the challenge: Create less disposable “content” and concentrate on supporting work that will mean something to you slightly longer than the time it takes to press “like” or “reblog.” Demand more of your own Tumblr sites, Twitter feeds, personal blogs, and status updates, setting the tone for the web you want to see. Demanding better curation by others means demanding better curation from ourselves.