The more time I spend on the Internet, the more I wonder if anyone ever has an original thought.
In the 14th century, during the Renaissance, thinkers and writers were praised for their ground-breaking ideas. Nowadays, when you think you have a great idea, someone else has probably already had the same idea.
Even some Harvard kids claim that Mark Zuckerberg stole Facebook from them. Claire Hoffman of Rolling Stone writes:
…three fellow Harvard students claim Zuckerberg fleeced their idea after they hired him to code a social-networking site they were creating. “We got royally screwed,” Divya Narendra, one of the students, has testified. And in April, another classmate, Aaron Greenspan, filed a petition to cancel Facebook’s trademark, claiming he invented an online facebook months before Zuckerberg.
When Jennifer tweeted me this link from The New York Times Bits blog (”‘Controlled Serendipity’ Liberates the Web“), I was kind of angry. Bilton basically covered a topic I write about all the time. Bilton’s tone leads me to believe that he thinks he’s discovering something new and novel.
I’m not trying to claim that I’m the first person who ever wrote about curating information on the web. Many other people have written about it too, if the comments on Bilton’s piece are any indication. Commenter Nick from New York, NY recommends books like Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, which he says explore similar issues and ideas.
In my post, “Fewer Sexy Librarians, More Talented Ones“, published on January 5th, I wrote about online curators/archivists and why they are important for the web. I was particularly interested in how average, everyday people were using social media and blogging platforms to catalogue work online, especially artistic work being produced by young artists. Below, are some excerpts:
But where are the quiet ones who catalog the web?
With so many young people creating and sharing their artistic work, how can we know that we are accessing the best of it? If the way you experience art online is not all that great, you may be tempted to make generalizations about all art.
The more we share on the web, the more we need archivists, especially talented ones that know which documents to save for posterity.
We need these cultural editors to prove that art is worthwhile, that not all of it is of exceptional but that some of it is vital and necessary for society.
When I read Bilton’s blog post, I found echoes of my own work. Granted, he takes a more general approach: he refers to information from all over the web, while I am more concerned with original works posted online, like artwork and creative writing. Bilton writes:
We are no longer just consumers of content, we have become curators of it too.
If someone approached me even five years ago and explained that one day in the near future I would be filtering, collecting and sharing content for thousands of perfect strangers to read — and doing it for free — I would have responded with a pretty perplexed look. Yet today I can’t imagine living in a world where I don’t filter, collect and share.
More important, I couldn’t conceive of a world of news and information without the aid of others helping me find the relevant links.
Sharing has become a reflex action when people find an interesting video, link or story. Great content going viral isn’t new. But the sharing mentality is no longer confined to the occasional gems. It’s for everything we consume online, large or small.
We are all human aggregators now.
See, what I think Bilton misses is that we HAVE been doing it all along, just in different ways. I don’t really understand why he is so shocked by our role as human aggregators.
Why do you think the Internet is so popular and widely used? Why do you think we have gotten to this point? All along, we have been looking for a way to make our jobs as human aggregators easier.
Before, we would clip newspaper articles and save them, photocopy them for our friends and family members, write down passages from books, or try our best to describe a scene we had watched in a movie or television show. What good was reading something profound if you couldn’t share it? What good was being angered by something if you couldn’t respond to it? Why do you think newspapers encourage readers to submit letters, and why do you think so many people do it?
Some people are better curators than others – they have an eye and a talent for finding what’s culturally relevant and interesting. They can put the finger on the pulse of a society and really feel it. They can pinpoint what’s important, and they have the intuitive sense to recommend content to other people. In the past, these people made a career of it.
Social media is just another way for us to make a big world a smaller place. Sharing hasn’t JUST become a reflex action. It has always been a reaction, a vital part of the fact that we are social beings. Let us not be so amazed. Let us participate and embrace it and stand up to the challenges it brings along with all the good.
Frankly, Mr. Bilton, I am insulted by your statement, “If someone approached me even five years ago and explained that one day in the near future I would be filtering, collecting and sharing content for thousands of perfect strangers to read — and doing it for free — I would have responded with a pretty perplexed look.”
Look at me, my name is Nick Bilton, and I get paid to write unoriginal thoughts for The New York Times.
When you’re passionate about something, when you’re so excited about this great world, when you’re curious about it, when you want to participate in the exchange of ideas, you don’t think about it. You don’t even think about the effort. You think about how much there is to consume, how much there is to filter (we only have so many hours in the day!), and you think about how best to enjoy it. Then you share the ideas that mean the most to you, whether through speech or social media or just by handing someone a copy of a book or magazine.
As humans, our ultimate goals is to strengthen our species and perpetuate it – the only way we can do that is to ensure that, in an ever growing world, we are connected by the strongest ties possible. Together, we can move forward. Disconnected, we are nothing.
These are things we have been trying to do all along, from the beginning. They are the very essence of communication and the very essence of our being.
(Photo by nanpalmero)