Friday, April 6, 2012

"I wouldn't want an information diet that depends on what's trending on Twitter." David Carr

David Carr
New York Times' The Media Equation columnist, David Carr, is interviewed at The Verge, April 3rd, about his evolving concern for wanting to know the source his information.

If Twitter -- or the internet for that matter -- provide us with "everything," do you really have a sense that you know what's "going on"? Even if you have and take the time to stand in front of the fire hose of reportage? On the other hand, are the six stories on the front page of the print New York Times really the most important events in the world on any given day (or reported in a timely way)?

Like so many Big Questions relating to new digital technologies, the genuine importance of the issues and their relation to authentically urgent events make us forget that the issues are not new. Maybe we shouldn't be so breathless about asking them considering they've been asked before. And answered (although maybe not definitively).

There's lots of talk about "curation" relating to web sources of information without fully appreciating what we can learn from the analogy to art curation. In the art world (at least over the past two centuries) not just anybody can be a curator. (Yes, anybody can pick what they personally like, but that's not being a curator: so note -- just because you use Pinterest, you're not really a curator).

A curator selects an object for a collection. But the curator has also been selected, previously, by one or more persons or committees, who in turn had been selected back in the day. It's a kind of lineage system. Before the person becomes a curator, he/she has passed some tests of extrinsic and intrinsic qualities and accomplishments. The curator's choice represents a historical current of choices -- which reflect identity, perspective, discrimination (good and bad senses of the word). The true curator is not self-appointed. The curator has been picked by a community, by a history.

A curator also selects for a community: he/she picks what others (other curators, other selectors/experts) have picked -- or would pick if they had the chance or the inside track on getting the object. A curator selects, first or presciently, what others would pick or would've liked to have picked. The curator has a record of selecting what other selectors have and would select. This is one reason why provenance is important in artworks: a piece can have more value simply because it had been in the collection of another respected selector/curator.

I'm with David Carr. I am at the point at which I do, all the more, look for real curators for news and on the web. I want some curators that are entirely qualitative, like the traditional museum curator (described above).These are curators that have been selected (I don't hesitate to use the term:) by The Culture. And I also want some (non-human) curators such as the algorithms that sift through the internet fire hose and identify content thematic points of coalescence.

I definitely do not want the fusillade of anonymously sponsored political information that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision blessed. Real curation is going on there, but it is the curation of The Secret Source. There's generally a reason why something is secret, and that reason generally doesn't have my best interests at heart. (See Chair and CEO of PRSA, Gerard Corbett's, New York Times letter to the editor on March 30th.)

In Aristotle's Rhetoric he distinguishes, in any argument, the Logical, the Emotional, and the Ethical Appeals. The first is the appeal to the mind: rationality, facts, logic. The Emotional Appeal is just that: getting the audience to feel a certain way -- compassion, outrage, disgust, regret. The Ethical Appeal is the value to the argument that accrues from the reputation of the Source (the writer or speaker). It's reputation. It's the implicit validation of being a real curator.

As the Queen of Measurement, Katie Paine, put it some time ago, all tweets are not created equal.