Social Media Curation: Why Do You Share?
To curate… “to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content.” This definition, as opposed to the original verb relative to museum staff, is worth discussing.
More often than not, I’ll be at a museum with friends and they’ll ask me to define the word “curate.” Although it first entered the English language in 1909 (according to Merriam-Webster), surprisingly enough, the word isn’t commonplace to those outside the network of high brow or museum-quality fine art practice.
However, with the recent surge in popularity of sites like Pinterest and Wanelo paired with updates to Facebook, Twitter, and other major social media platforms, the idea of curation isn’t so elitist anymore. The notion of “personal curation” is trending, from the creation of uniquely defined Pinterest boards to tailored profiles and privatized circles of friends. Through various social media platforms, each online user has the ability to make choices that streamline his life, in its many facets, into a sort of digital archive. If the Library of Congress has our tweets on record, why shouldn’t we each have personal digitized archives? (Note: I won’t even poke the topic of digital information security. We’ll save that for a rainy day.)
In a world based on sharing, and over-sharing, the new trend of personal curation has just hit the surface. Instagram, Hipstamatic, Facebook camera, and a plethora of mobile camera apps make it so easy to capture every moment of our lives, good and bad. The bad, however, is where the term “curation” becomes critical. The essence of curating is to make choices that streamline multiple facets and objects into one unified collection, representing something specific and coherent.
In the example of a museum curator, if she is putting together a show on Mark Rothko, she’s probably not going to choose paintings by Dutch artist Jan van Eyck. She’ll possibly group the show into chronological periods, choosing works that provide the most insight into his early versus later years, guiding the viewer as his style develops. Each choice reaches back to the underlying theme of the show, the unifying idea that educates and entertains the audience.
But going back to social media, choosing what and when to post is equally as important as the museum curator’s choices. I’m not talking about nixing those notorious solo cup photos; for the serious blogger, tweeter, pinner, or next-cool-thing-er, content is always number one. The idea of personally curating your profile — who you are, what you do, and how you want to be seen — is now part of every tech-savvy user’s agenda.
If you’re on Facebook, why do you post anything at all? You don’t have to. So why do you do it? What’s your motivation behind posting photos of you and your best friends looking gorgeous up at the lake house instead of, oh, you and your cat on the couch, watching TV? Or maybe you prefer posting the photos of you and your cat. Further, if you’re calling yourself an expert in craft beer or antique china boats, why aren’t you focusing many of your posts on these topics? We’re all guilty of that late-night post that probably complains about the heat or Congress or… what have you… But the majority of your posts should be relevant and interesting, and at bare minimum, identify with someone out there. That’s the point, after all. By making such choices, you define the image you’re presenting to the digital community. And while this doesn’t have to be so black and white with stark and heavy posting criteria, defining why you’re posting at all as you envision your ideal audience is what makes a profile worth reading. If you just want to complain, grab yourself a LiveJournal.
But too often, people lose sight of the perks of social media. The ability to share with so many people at once is taken for granted, replaced with spam and unwanted information. Having such a powerful network at your back is an incredible tool and, when used wisely, it can lead to educational, entertaining, and exciting new insights. Sharing recipes on Pinterest, new bands on Rdio, amazing novels on Goodreads… imagine having these capabilities back in the ’90s. I remember thinking how awesome Instant Messenger was and how amazing it was to even have a cordless phone in my room. #yikes
Maybe it’s our Millennial generation’s inherent, narcissistic tendencies that urge us to share. Not everyone feels this way, but then again, not everyone is on Facebook. Each of the social platforms speaks to the Creative in everyone, yielding the technology to establish yourself as someone interesting and unique in a world where every hipster has something revelational to say. Each profile screams, “Hey! I’m on Goodreads! Look at all the books I’ve read!” or “Check out my Spotify playlists. I started listening to the sickest new bands before everyone else.” Instagram-ers filter their photos, making friends tanner and cityscapes more dramatic. And while I’m giving away the trade secrets, I’m as guilty as anyone: “Check out my photos on Instagram… I’m such an artist.”
So, while this generation has brought about incredible opportunities to digitally archive and record our everyday lives, it’s become so easy to over-share. Personally curating the web properties you own is not only an insightful way to reflect upon your own life, but it’s practically a public service to those you call friends online. By choosing wisely, the user develops his own personal tag-line, in 140 characters or less, defining himself in an age of digital over-sharing.
When in doubt, turn to the memes.
UPDATE 7/11/2012: I’ve just stumbled across another great perspective on sharing versus over-sharing and the psychological effects of social media. Check out Truth and Cake’s new post, “Selective Truth and Social Media: TMI or Not Enough.”
What do you think?