Come with me for a minute. I want to tell you just… one word. Are you listening? Content. There’s a create future in content.

Will you think about it?

Deep, meaningful, ongoing, content and dialogue about content. Dialogue about content. Reflections and arguments and sharing of not just links or soundbites or pulling half of what should be said or critiqued or

I wasn’t at SWSX this week. But the word out of Austin was David Carr’s (NY Times) provocation that somehow sharing content has become an indoor sport, with the prize being “notoriety and motivation of vanity.” And all I could think was – thank you, David Carr.

The above scene from the film The Graduate (1967) and quoted below started ringing in my head earlier this week after a few conversations about new start-ups that are still going the way of… geo-locating people… in a room, in a city… based on profiles on their Twitter feeds… their LinkedIn profiles… with “value-added” ability to shorten… and share… and broadcast… and repurpose… “content.”

Sharing content is likened to the human microphone of last summer’s OWS movement – some people are sharing out loud for the very first time. It’s empowering, it’s immediate, and participatory.

Why that scene in film The Graduate? It’s funny and tense. He muffles the scene in a jaw-clenched voice that recent grads often use while fending off inquiries about what they plan to do with the rest of their lives. He’s reaching the breaking point about his secret affair with the formidable Anne Bancroft. The audience wonders, is plastic really his future?

Lady at a party: What are you going to do now?

Dustin Hoffman, meekly: Well, I was going to go upstairs. 

Lady: No, honey. With the rest of your life. With your future.

At which point Mister McGuire says: Ben, Come with me for a minute. I want to talk with you.

Dustin Hoffman: Yes, sir?

McGuire: I want to tell you just… one… word. Plastics.

Dustin Hoffman asks: How exactly do you mean, sir? 

McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Will ya think about it? ‘Nuff said. That’s the deal. 

The trade-off for working in lucrative plastics means also giving up bonking Mrs. Robinson, which is just silly, or her pretty daughter, which he does.

It’s a pivotal scene in Dustin Hoffman’s turn as Ben in The Graduate, when Mr. McGuire growls the magical secret for what’s to come in the groovy 1960s. He muffles the scene in a jaw-clenched voice that recent grads often use while fending off inquiries about what they plan to do with the rest of their lives. That voice is sometimes mine when asked what the heck I plan to do with a PhD, so I quote it here:

Lady at a party: What are you going to do now?

Dustin Hoffman, meekly: Well, I was going to go upstairs. 

Lady (her ’60s earrings swaying): No, honey. With the rest of your life. With your future.

At which point Mister McGuire says: 


Ben, Come with me for a minute. I want to talk with you.

Dustin Hoffman: Yes, sir?

McGuire: I want to tell you just… one… word.

                             Plastics.

Dustin Hoffman asks: How exactly do you mean, sir? 

McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Will ya think about it? ‘Nuff said. That’s the deal. 



If the gruff exchange of a career lucrative plastics means giving up bonking Mrs. Robinson, well, that’s just silly. Mrs. Robinson could very well be the content that Ben, just about like all the other young graduates heading home on the east coast, hopeful to get some answers that he needs about life.

But we’ll never really know.

Content is neurotic. It’s seductive. “What do you think of me?” she asks Ben. I always through you were a really nice person. “Did you know I was an alcoholic?”

“Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me.”

Content wants to be shared but not truncated or pulled out of context. Good content, and good content creation often dies a low-rez death on our laptops or in our heads, and it doesn’t often have an outlet. So it goes into shorter formats that are trying to adapt to new ways of producing content.

Last night I attended a talk on “The Future of E-Books,” in which panelists identified, and rightly so, new ways that the middle-man can be cut out so that writers can publish fiction and non-fiction that normally wouldn’t go to market through traditional publishing models. And it connected in my mind one of my greatest fears about content becoming just another commodity, as Reid summarized in his dispatch from SWSX:

“There’s clearly something going on. We’ve become a referral economy and there’s great social cachet to sharing,” Carr said, who sparked a big laugh noting that, “we shouldn’t get hung-up on nomenclature; the notion of ‘curation’ can be kind of twee.”

Twee. Oh lord, he’s right. Like, not even a full tweet. Just… twee!

I

In Calvin Reid’s review of what sounded like an explosive panel provoked by Carr and others in SXSW 2012: New Publishing Models and the Rise of the Referral Economy, posted on March 12, 2012, got some up in arms about the loss of a referral economy – based on actual opinions – in Curators or the Curated.

 

The panel examined the phenomenon of content sharing—essentially the practice of “any and everyone linking to content and sending it out to followers and friends around the web—and what that means to publishers, creators and the curators themselves:”

 New York Times media blogger David Carr—moderator Max Linsky of Longform.org, said that Carr was the only person on the panel he was terrified of—the panel was composed a collection of notable “curators,” in this instance individuals who specialize in picking and choosing cool things from the web and offering it up to the rest of us. In theory curators bring attention to content and drive traffic to the original site; in practice some curators are having more impact than the publications they curate from. And its generated a debate about the practice and what it means—and of course how to monetize it.

 Indeed curation seems more like a form of publishing than simply an enthusiasm or a leisure diversion. It’s become its own thing.

 

 Indeed curation has gone beyond indviduals as publishers also look to gather and point to content–the Huffington Post being one. After much discussion of the difference between curation and aggregation—generally, people curate and algorithms aggregate—the discussion focused more specifically on the quality and philosophical intent of the curators. There was much back and forth over the notion of cuatorial “quality”—seeking content for its inherent value—or the commercialization of curating, i.e. simply looking for content of any kind that will drive traffic. There’s even an effort afoot to create a “curators code of ethics,” (curatorscode.org), essentially establishing a kind of “authorship” for curators that includes a set of icons that can be used in the links that will designate whether it was a direct link from a curator (the “author,” I suppose) or an indirect link to content. Heady stuff for an activity that attracts admittedly talented and passionate people, though people who basically find stuff they like on the web and point it out for others.

Nevertheless, “there’s clearly something going on. We’ve become a referral economy and there’s great social cachet to sharing,” Carr said, who sparked a big laugh noting that, “we shouldn’t get hung-up on nomenclature; the notion of ‘curation’ can be kind of twee.”

He also rejected some of the anti-advertising curatorial comments, noting that business platforms were important and that he had worked for a Minn.-based newspaper that did away with escort ads and the loss of revenue killed the newspaper. “When we got snotty about advertising the readers hated it.” He continued, “Vanity may be a part of it but sharing content has become a huge indoor sport and that seems like something [culturally] new to me. Whether its narcissism or vanity, I don’t know.” A smart, fun, occasionally infuriating and inconclusive panel that will certainly generate more panels of this kind.

 

Twee. Oh lord, he’s right. Like, not even a full tweet. Just… twee.

More on twee here pretty soon.

There seems to be a need to also identify ways that the word “curation” needs a bit of a smackaround before becoming a lax indentifier and verbal crutch of making sound decisions based on elusive criteria like taste or style. “I curated my salad today,” one of my grad students said last semester when she felt the word curator has ceased to hold meaning for her generation.

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