The curious foible of curation

I heard about This. the other day. As all the cool kids know, it’s a social bookmarking service that only allows you to share one link per day. It’s a neat idea, though a bit of gimmick. Why would you want to share a link every, single day?

I understand it’s not mandatory. I’m not under the impression that masked goons will assault your residence of an evening, demanding why you have yet to post a funny or insightful link.

But there is something relentless about how This. is marketed around this one interaction. As if the limitation of one link per day might be the social sharing equivalent of constrained writing, nurturing of itself an ecosystem of eclectic and sophisticated content.

All it’s actually going to do is prevent people from sharing more than one link in a given day. On that one service. Don’t get me wrong. Less noise and more signal is an admirable pursuit. But arriving belatedly, after all the other sharing apparatuses, This. can only cultivate yet another walled garden where internati schmooze with their inbred clique.

I don’t doubt that the internet requires curation to be useful. Anyone who was online fifteen or twenty years ago remembers (fondly, for some reason) what a mess it all was.

The only bone I have to pick with This. is its underlying assumption: that people are starved for good things to read and watch because they’re inundated with more content than they have time to shift through. And that’s just not the case. It’s not that hard to find something worthwhile to while away some time, whether online or off.

Many years ago an acquaintance confessed that she wanted to “get into reading”. Being an English major in college, this was the sort of conversation that happened to me at parties. I may have been partly to blame.

Her difficulty with reading, she explained, was that she didn’t know what to read.

“Nonsense,” I said, with the dazzling smugness of youth. “All you have to do is to go into a bookshop and pick up any black-spine Penguin.”

(I don’t remember if I strode off after that; but it’s the sort of sentence after which striding is certainly an option.)

Without having a specific title in mind, finding a good book was always possible by venturing to the section of the bookshop which consisted almost wholly of Penguin Classics, bearing the characteristic black cover and spine. Granted, not all the books in the Western canon are equally interesting, the translations were not always meticulous, the annotations and prefatory matter were sometimes shoddy. But, as a general rule, someone in pursuit of a good read could find one within the limits of that inadequate selection by browsing through the books themselves. All it took was a bit of time — not unpleasant, if you’re into that sort of thing — and the desire to do so.

That my acquaintance did not become a reader of good literature, nor even of bad literature, will not surprise you. The difficulty she faced was not the absence of a curated selection of content. It was, simply, that things worth reading require effort to do so. Not a herculean, titanic, or other Greco-Roman effort. Just a bit of persistence will suffice.

The curious foible of curation is that no one can read in your stead, just as no trainer can run in your place. Finding something good to read is easier than people seem to think. What’s hard is figuring out what to do with it, once you’ve found it. What’s hard is thinking.

If we expect that an internet service will imbue our media consumption with sophistication and rigour, or even just a sense of exclusivity, we’ll get the content we deserve.

It’s going to be cat videos, same as always. Just fewer of them.

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