Collecting vs. Curating: Finding Meaning in Social Media

For four and a half years I lived under the assumption that to use Facebook effectively, I had to expand my network as vastly and rapidly as possible. It wasn’t until I hit 1000 friends six months ago, that I realized every time I logged on, I was flooded with information on the personal lives of people who attended my high school, but to whom I never said a word in person. People I met once and would probably never meet again, but to whose trips to the beach I was now a virtual guest. This was a problem. I wasn’t curating or caring about any of these people, I was collecting them.

While failing at Facebook, I was succeeding at Twitter. There is practically no one from my social circles connected to me on Twitter. I follow journalists, artists, athletes, and actors, people who are connected to worlds I am not. Through them, I gain knowledge about worlds and industries beyond my own. These people I have never met package their worlds into 140-character sized tweets for me to digest at my leisure, with no threat of reciprocity. I can unfollow at will; if my favorite journalist suddenly gets too Insta-happy, I can simply stop receiving his information.  The goal isn’t number of followers, it’s finding a way to stop spending hours searching for diamonds in the rough.

Turn the clock forward six months, and my Facebook friends list has been cut in half. Someone whose name I don’t recognize immediately? Bye. Too many photos of trees that are not contributing to my thought process? Farewell. Since I’ve started curating, not only has my social media usage become more immediately rewarding, it’s become more efficient. I no longer have to scroll for hours to find something interesting to justify my procrastination. With enough tinkering, the things I find interesting will rise to the top.

Curating comes with an appreciation of the potential of social media. Things like Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest. These are all structured to encourage curating. Things like Multi-Reddits, diverse pinboards, and twitter lists have been created because the producers of these products have proceeded with the knowledge and understanding that the power of these services lies in the delegation of specification to the user. Making the user the master of their social media fate is the most valuable thing a programmer can do when hoping to create a meaningful product. This situation draws parallels quite easily to the real world as well.

Take college, for example: a paradigm with which we are all familiar. In the months leading up to orientation, the natural impulse of many first-years was to be as active as possible on the Facebook group for the Sarah Lawrence Class of 2017, which then led to a barrage of friend requests, new connections to people we hadn’t even met yet and to whom we would rarely end up speaking.

I was excited with this process, enough that I probably under performed in my last semester of high school. But now I wonder, why are we so obsessed with maintaining tenuous connections to large number of people? I’d rather focus on cultivating stronger relationships with the people to whom I relate.

Since eliminating most of the noise from my social media, I find that the time I spend there is shorter, and more rewarding. Consequently, it has strengthened and supplemented my relationships with my friends offline as well. Social media is changing the way the world operates. Never has the world’s information been so accessible. So why then do we continue to misuse the resources at hand? Appraising relationships for their contributory value, and information streams for their practical use, is a skill that has universal applications. But if I’m the only one doing this curating actively, then our social media is still hopelessly inefficient. Give it a try. Get rid of a few friends, fans, or followers, and see how the amount of meaningful time you spend on social media changes.

Featured image via Things Organized Neatly

Amit is a first-year student concentrating on film and is also a photographer for SLCspeaks. Find him on Instagram at @amitsankaran.

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