Why I Curate

I happen to live just a few blocks away from Common Good Books, a book store owned by Garrison Keillor (of A Prairie Home Companion fame). One of the things I love about it, and that makes it so very special, is that it is studiously and exactingly curated. It is not a big store, yet it has the same basic number of sections as a large retailer would. The thing is, each section has about 20-40 books on any given topic area. Not just any books mind you – only the ones the well read and knowledgeable employees feel are the best. In fact, it is virtually impossible to get a “bad” book because of this. Wanna know about gardening? Just go to that section and pick up any book and it is bound to be just what you needed. It’s fantastic.

I have a great amount of respect for good curation because it is largely what I consider myself. The role I perform at most of my online ventures (save this one), and the title I assume is “Curator”. My goal is to find interesting items that fall under specific topic areas and gather them together along with some commentary that will hopefully provide interest, context, and cause the reader to investigate further. I don’t want to post, “reblog”, or otherwise highlight just any article, infographic, product, or link. I only want to post examples that I feel are the best of the breed. I also want to do so in a way that gives ultimate credit to the content creator in the form they intend. What I strive for is that, just like that ideal bookstore, you will be able to go to Minimal Mac, Practical Opacity, The Random Post, etc., click on any permalink, and find something that is a perfect representative of the topic area.

Of course, I’m no trailblazer here. I stand on the shoulders of some folks who I have long admired. In fact, the original term for what became what we now call a blog, “weblog”, was used to describe a site that was more an act of curation than solely consisting of original content. In fact, I rather prefer that the terms blog and blogger refer to this more traditional role, as the proper term for those individuals who trade in original long-form content is “Essayist” but I digress…

The best curated blogs have been around for almost as long as the Internet itself. Jason Kottke, for instance, has made a very long and successful run as someone who is an excellent curator and consistently highlights and provides insightful commentary on a wide and diverse variety of quality Internet finds. Boing Boing is another in that same league. John Gruber of Daring Fireball, while providing some of the best Macintosh long-form editorial commentary around, is also a fantastic curator of related links. In fact, if one only followed DF, one would have all they really need to know about what is going on in the Mac universe. If I was only half as tall as these giants I would be doing well.

This is the sort of excellence, longevity, and consistency I strive for. I think in this highly overwhelming information age, where literally anything we wish to know about is available to us in an instant, more knowledgeable and trusted sources are needed to curate the signal from the noise.

What’s that?

The first quarter of my life was spent in a world where there was no such thing as a “personal computer”. The idea of someone having a computer in their home was as futuristic when I was, say, eight years old as a jet pack or rocket car. By the time I was in my teen years, they were as much of a reality, at least for the folks I knew who could afford one, as a toaster. The generation just after mine, has never lived in a word where personal computers were a not common possession of almost everyone they knew. I’ve been thinking recently about the probability that my two year old daughter may hear about something called a “keyboard” or a “mouse” and stare at me just a blankly as today’s college grads would when you mention running programs off of a cassette recorder (“What’s that?”) from a computer you hooked up to the antenna jack (“What’s that?”)  on a TV. 

When I see Beatrix pick up my iPad and, after some very brief instruction, launch the Photo app, gleefully squeal “Pinch!” and “Swipe!” as she does just that to navigate the interface, I can’t help but think that this is all she will ever need to know about how one interacts with the computer for the foreseeable future. I can’t help but think that one day, we will be down in the basement, and she will see some old system we should have disposed of long ago, and it will have these strange things attached to them, things we never imagined doing without, and she’ll ask “Daddy, what’s that?”.

The “What if” Myth

There are these little myths we often let ourselves base important decisions and major purchases around. I like to call them the “What if” myths. Because of my business I seem to hear them all the time. That said, the tech savvy are not immune either. I myself have fallen prey more times than I care to admit. In almost every case, these phrases lead us to spend more money than necessary, pack more in our bag than we have to, and purchase far more machine than we will use . It also keeps us from truthfully examining our day to day needs.

Here are a couple of common examples:

“What if I need to run Photoshop?”

This is the common excuse I hear from designers as to why they need, in addition to a desktop machine with a large screen and powerful graphics card, a portable machine that can perform with suitable aplomb.

My challenge to this myth is two fold: a) How often do you really need this kind of power in a mobile situation? Can these rare times not wait until you return to your desk? b) Do you really need a desktop machine as well as a portable? Why not sell the desktop and have one machine that is both powerful and portable.

“What if someone sends me a Word document?”

This is usually the myth I hear from people who are convinced they need Microsoft Office. These folks are certain that they run into such situations “all the time” but, when pressed or investigated, I usually find out it is about twice a year and the documents themselves are things like kids birthday party invitations where the information within is far more important than the formatting.

My challenge to this myth is that TextEdit can open any Word document to the extent that you need it to. Most times, it will do so flawlessly. It can even save out in MS Word formats so if you need to make some simple edits and send it back to someone who has fallen prey to this same myth, you can. Even those funky new .docx files all the MS kids are crazy about these days. If push comes to shove, you could get the iWork suite so that you can open Excel files (in Numbers) and Powerpoint files (in Keynote). The bottom line, you don’t need Microsoft Office.

Don’t you mind about the future? Don’t you try to think ahead? Save tomorrow for tomorrow; Think about today instead.

– “What’s The Buzz” from Jesus Christ Superstar ‘

The thing with all of this is, why plan for and base such choices on the boundary cases? Why buy something for what you hardly ever do as opposed to what you do all the time? If you encountered such a scenario, is the fallout so costly that you can justify spending more or having more than you need up front and every day? If so, then I can understand such a choice. If not, then why not purchase what you need (or even better, find a way to make do with what you have) when you need it?

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