I rarely share links. When I do it happens in spurts while I’m racing through Google Reader or Flipboard. I generally don’t share much. I don’t really retweet that much either, and I think I know why.
I don’t like “viral” content.
There. I’ve said it. In my years as a music critic and editor I was frustrated when I the same stories and angles everywhere. But that was just a function of the news cycle and part of the maturation of the news outlets we came to know as blogs. Viral content does the same thing, but frictionless sharing enables an altogether different kind of exposure to the identical piece of content, mostly without comment. There’s no avoiding it. It infiltrates every channel, social or otherwise. If you spend any time on the Internet, you’re haunted by meme after meme. It’s awesome and fun the first time, but then it quickly becomes that pop song you can’t escape all summer.
Yet those pieces of content are what you’re expected to share because as much as anything else, when you share a link you’re letting people know you’re in on the joke. It’s the latest endpoint in the ongoing Internet phenomenon of “firsties,” which is different from, say, a “scoop” because there’s no reporting involved.
See, to me, link sharing is nothing more than conspicuous consumption. Elevating it to “curation” is just a joke. When you share a link, all you’re really communicating is “look what I’ve seen.” To me, this is like inviting people to your dorm room to wow them with your music or books. Chances are, plenty of people have those albums or books, just like lots of people will see a link to a particular piece of content. There’s nothing especially curatorial to it. “Curation” is simply a function of reach or authority and the leisure time to read and share. It doesn’t matter if you created the piece of content, or if you were even the first to share it. What matters is that people perceive you as the first person to share it, thereby cementing your status as a curator.
But that’s not even the worst part of curation. The worst is when you find yourself being tricked into reading articles in familiar sources. Sure, some of it is a piece of clever copy with a good call-to-action. No shame in that; it’s a lost art. But when most of what’s being shared is in obscure publications like the New York Times, well, then, how exactly are you curating one of the best edited publications in the world?
Increasingly though that skill, namely, getting people to click on links, is online currency, measured by services like Klout and Kred. Publishers and content creators should rejoice; never before in the history of the web have people been so incentivized to share content online. But the problem is we’re gamifying a practice that reduces us all to clickbots circulating the same content in 24 hour shifts.
When I read the web, I want to read and look at things that were shared thoughtfully and meaningfully about a variety of topics, not just someone optimizing their social profile by sharing the most popular item of the day. To me the variety of content is what makes reading the web special. I’d hate to see that sort of content decimated by the push for pageviews.
Now I’ll share a link that expresses very clearly how I feel about curation. I LOVED this article over at The Awl, especially the part about “ ‘people who are really picky with what they share on Facebook.’ ”