The end of self-curation

When I was a kid, I loved going into our house’s attic. Whenever we needed some seasonal items, I’d gingerly climb the creaky pulldown ladder over the garage, despite my intense fear of heights, and happily breathe in that musty fragrance belonging to ancient things. After the Christmas lights and ornaments were handed down to my father, my interest would inevitably turn toward my parents’ boxes in the very back of the attic. Boxes filled with yearbooks, newspaper articles, trophies, plaques, family photos. All from a time before I existed. Some from a time before my parents even knew each other. I would spend as much time as I was allowed sifting through their carefully curated things. I found out more about my parents just by looking at the things they’d chosen to keep. The things they identified as themselves.

I’ve been thinking about those boxes again lately.

Technology has changed so much about how we document our lives. Today, we’re able to capture thoughts and photos (and more) instantly. We don’t have to wait years to see a narrative emerging. We can just flip through Facebook Timeline and see narratives on a micro and macro level. What was our narrative this week, this month, this quarter, this year? We can also experiment and improve our own storytelling. Want to learn to take beautiful photos? Pull out your phone and start shooting. Share them with friends, get feedback, read some guides. Try some more. Don’t worry about running out of film or paying to develop your shots or even running out of room in your shoebox in the closet. Shoot, edit, post and shoot again.

It’s an amazing time. But like I said, I’ve been thinking about those boxes lately. I’ve been looking at this endless and diverse stream of information that makes up each of us and wondering: Who would ever take the time to sift through this? The beauty of those boxes in the attic was that they were constrained. My parents had to decide what was most precious to them. Unwittingly, they built time capsules that told the opener (me) everything they thought was most important about themselves. In those boxes I discovered their curated selves.

Where are our boxes? I honestly don’t think they exist. Instead, we create and share our lives in real time. We weave our own narratives and interact directly with others’ as quickly as we can post. But what artifacts of ourselves are we leaving behind? What if you only had a limited amount of space? What if you curated your digital life? What if you collected your most precious status updates, photos, videos, check-ins, pins, links, blog posts, comments and likes and placed them somewhere, to be found someday by loved ones who didn’t know you now.

It seems an impossible task. Before, we would curate our content out of necessity. Out of thirty-six photos in a roll, only a few were suitable for the photo album. Only a couple for frames. Now, with over a thousand photos on my iPhone alone (with many more on Facebook), trying to pick out the gems only becomes more daunting every day as my collection grows. Tweets? Forget it. And it’s only going to get worse. Twitter and Facebook are only six and eight years old respectively. If we’re creating mountains of information now, what will we have in ten more years? Fifty? One hundred?

But you know, maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’ve moved away from needing to carefully curate our lives at all. Sure, there are services like TimeHop, which speak to the fact that our sense of nostalgia isn’t entirely diminished. But by and large, we no longer have to decide what is important. That responsibility has fallen to our friends and our family, who will each find something completely different when they look through all of these feeds we’ve created. We’ve ceased excavating our own lives and begun examining each other’s.

Which is why it’s perfectly alright that all our content is swiftly created and then just as swiftly flows out into the digital ocean. We should be concerned about sharing things together now, celebrating and experiencing our lives collectively as they happen. We’re more connected than ever before, which means we shouldn’t mind if someone misses a photo here or a thought there. They’ll catch the next one. Or the next one. And in the end, we’ve created a museum, not a box, for people to walk through and spend time with the pieces that are important to them, not us.


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