Internet

Are You a Curator or a Packrat?

Curation

At first glance, the contrast between these two handles couldn’t be sharper.

A curator is a specialist who oversees a cultural institution’s collections. (S)he makes decisions about what objects to collect, oversees their care, and conducts research to share with the public through exhibitions and publications.

Conversely, a packrat is a disparaging term for an undisciplined hoarder. (S)he’s named after a bushy-tailed rodent that uses its well-developed cheek pouches to store food and miscellaneous objects.

Seemingly disparate terms, yet in the unwieldy world of digital content, there’s a fine line separating the two.

Most of us, of course, would much prefer to don a curator’s hat. We aspire to be that cultured – somewhat snooty – expert who has a skill for selecting and sharing content that’s ideally suited to whatever audience we seek to reach.

But who or what determines what’s OK to share? How much is too much? Is there a specific formula or general rule of thumb?

The frustrating truth is: it depends. One person’s trusted curator is another person’s annoying packrat.

Each morning, as I scour news sites and blogs for content that I think may be of interest to my Twitter community, I wonder which moniker I most embody.

Some mornings, it’s slim pickings. Others, it’s a bountiful harvest and I find myself fighting trigger-finger tendencies.

Regardless, it’s really hard to gauge whether I’m viewed as more of a curator or a packrat. I suspect the answer depends on whom you ask.

In many ways, trying to organize and serve up digital content is much more challenging and murky than it is for any cultural institution. Holdings don’t fit nicely within a discrete, climate-controlled environment. They never will. 

Instead, the goal is to cast a focused net within the seemingly endless ocean of internet content (estimated to reach 20 billion items by 2020).

The role of digital curator is in its infancy. It’s messy. Imprecise. And often like chasing the wind. 

But it’s an increasingly valuable — and valued — function.

So if you’re wondering whether you’re more of a curator or a packrat, you’re probably a bit of both. 

Welcome to the family.

Packrat

Life Before Running Water

Water

It was really tough growing up in a house with no running water. Each day, one of us would have to rise before dawn, walk for miles to the community well, and fetch the day’s supply of water. Those few gallons had to accommodate our family’s daily routine of drinking, bathing, washing and cooking. The next morning, the whole process would begin again.

OK, that scenario is a total fabrication. I actually grew up in a comfortable suburban home with numerous working spigots and sinks. Water was plentiful and pure and completely taken for granted.

What we didn’t have was Internet access – or even a single onsite computer.

That’s because my ‘80s youth preceded the digital age.

To anyone born in the last 20 years, my Internet isolation probably seems as primitive to you as a life without running water seems to me.

Yet we managed just fine, as we were completely oblivious to the technological advancements awaiting the next generation.

I sometimes wonder what my grandpa (who died when I was a little boy) would think if he were suddenly transported into our 21st century world. Undoubtedly, he would be amazed and overwhelmed by our “modern” lifestyle, clothing, food, music, recreation, and especially our technology. To someone who truly lived a large chunk of his childhood without access to running water, our world would seem positively opulent.

Yet I have to believe he’d also be disappointed by what’s been stripped away from modern life and culture.

Grandpa might yearn for the social interaction that was so common in his day. A true sense of close-knit neighbors and face-to-face community that defined daily life.

He also might crave a return to the more physical demands and expectations of his era. When exercise was strongly embedded in daily life, and it served as both a physical and mental workout. When sweat was valued.

I think the facet of life Grandpa might miss most is a slower, simpler pace. A time when time was savored instead of raced. When the concept of multi-tasking would’ve been considered an absurd notion. When life wasn’t hurried along.

Though few of us would opt to return to the days of no Internet (or running water), there are definite trade-offs to the “advances” we now enjoy.

Think it’s time to go take a leisurely walk. Minus the iPod or water bottle.