“Who wants yesterday’s papers?
Who wants yesterday’s girl?
Who wants yesterday’s paper ?
Nobody in the world”
– Rolling Stones 1967
We are besieged by information, knee deep and beyond. If you have a smart mobile device it comes at you from all directions, in almost all circumstances. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice we are drowning in a flood of communications freed by the spell of inexpensive ubiquitous technology, and try as we might we know of no counter spell to stem the tide.
The consequences of this growing tsunami are multifold, many as yet unsuspected or undetected, but the only sure thing is that life now is very different from what is was before.
“The Shallows – What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr provides an insightful examination of some of the effects. One of his most important points is that we are becoming increasingly distracted. Our attention span is decreasing, as is our ability to digest information and commit information to long term memory. Since the well of known information, the internet, is always available, recovering information that we have consumed but not digested is only a simple search string away.
There is an argument that suggests that this frees up our brains for different and possibly more productive activities, and there is some evidence that this may be the case.
But the issue remains that we are constantly encouraged to deal more and more with the present and less and less with the future and past. Brevity is key, as any person on Twitter will attest; yet it seems to apply to all of our communications. Short, pithy soundbites or images, moving or otherwise, are the order of the day. Content is king, or so I am told; and those that excel at amplifying these messages, whether their own or others, are quickly harnessed by marketeers to prime the pump for their brand(s) content.
Over the last year there has been a sea change in this approach, and while content seemingly remains supreme, some are beginning to recognize the value of context. Now it’s not just content, but related content that brings value. Sites that “curate” content, that is collecting and displaying additional content that augments the value of the original content, are seeing factorial increases in year on year traffic, see Greg Bardwell’s post on Content Curation Sweetspot. Content remains king, and though context is queen, curation has become a pawn close to being promoted to queen as well.
But that is not exactly the way I see it. I have a slightly different perspective:
Firstly information has value beyond the present, depending on its relevancy. Over time that value can and will change according to the quality of the information; the lower the quality the lower the value. Information created in the past can be critical to knowledge and understanding in both the present and future. At the same time ephemeral information will only have transient value, usually its 15 seconds in the spotlight.
Secondly the role of curation is not just to assemble topical and stylish content. While that may be the purpose and goals of stimulating appetites for fashion and consumables, greater depth is required by those in search of deeper knowledge, usually provided by a context made wider with the dimension of time. My definition of curation more closely resembles the profession as practiced in museums and galleries. It requires a knowledge of history and an understanding of influences, qualities and intentions that produced the thoughts and artifacts under custody.
We have a duty to future generations to ensure that quality content is preserved, including the context that contributed to and proceeded from its publication. In the face of the rising flood we need to curate responsibly, identifying the quality contributions and marking the relationships to authors and content that define their contexts. And we have to do this is a uniform and open manner so that we have common access to riches of the past that help navigate our present and future.
Open Linked Data might be one of the more viable approaches afforded by technology, however it is in our interests to collaborate on the framework and standards that will enables us to preserve contextual relationships in content. Making curated content consistent and optimally shareable helps us all.
Nobody wants yesterday’s papers, but yesterday’s girls grew up to become Joan of Arc, Hidlegard of Bingen, Marie Curie and Marie Stopes, and the world would be a poorer place without them.