Hugo Liu is Chief Scientist at hunch.com, and a taste researcher at MIT Media Lab, where he earned his PhD in 2006.

Larifari.org is a blog about taste science, product design, and internet life.

hugo@media.mit.edu
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Curation as a Metaphor to Live By

Internet-y people use the term 'curation' to mean the process of finding, filtering and organizing digital artifacts according to one's tastes. If you've ever filled out a social network profile, hearted a track on last.fm, or rated a movie on netflix, then congrats, you've unlocked the Curator Badge!

Two weeks ago, Silicon Valley Insider pronounced with great fanfare that Content is No Longer King: Curation is King! "King Content is dead! Long live King Curation!" you can hear the Interwebizens Liking from their Second Life villas. This got me excited too, albeit for a different reason -- I love words and their agency. I love that the metaphor of curation is being embraced by the internet.


In real life, a curator is a vanguard of cultural heritage. Curators oversee museums and institutions. By talking about digital life as curation, we imply that it is an aesthetic project. I am the proprietor of the Museum of Me. 

And metaphors are powerful. George Lakoff penned one of my favorite books in Rhetoric called Metaphors We Live By. He thinks that metaphors are so persuasive, they helped conservatives dominate political discourse for more than two decades. By posing tax reduction as "tax relief," conservatives insinuate that taxes are oppressive and onerous. (Why else would cutting them come as a relief?)

Curating your online web presence is just a gateway drug. Trust me, it will spread to real life in a big way. The food we eat, the friends we keep, the habits of our day. Now mind you, some folks tend to naturally live by the curation metaphor - perhaps they have a bent for aesthetics. I once knew a skinny goth kid who claimed he was skinny because his body was sculpture and indigesting food was part of the artwork. But the generation that grows up on a diet of google, facebook, and foursquare will adopt IRL curation for an ironic reason -- they see online life as an instruction manual for real life. Or so I believe.

My Facebook exchange with Drew

The bands you see in concert will be ones you discovered on youtube, hearted on last.fm, and tracked on tourfilter. The bars you're a regular at will be the ones you tried to become the Foursquare Mayor of. Just last week my IRL friend Drew wrote on my Facebook wall that, "Thanks to Facebook we are officially real life friends now." Hopefully said with a sense of irony.