Like A Baton, I Hand You This Story

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings has some interesting things to say about content curation.

Finding a way to acknowledge content curation and information discovery (or, better, the new term we invent for these fluffy placeholders) as a form of creative labor, and to codify this acknowledgement, is the next frontier in how we think about “intellectual property” in the information age. IP, as a term, is inherently flawed and anachronistic in its focus on ownership (“property”) in an age of sharing and open access, certainly. But it also challenges our most fundamental notions of authorship. As Bob Stein put it in his thoughtful 2006 critique of Jaron Lanier’s Digital Maoism, there’s an “emerging sense of the author as moderator — someone able to marshal ‘the wisdom of the network.’”

The concept of author as moderator, or guide, is ancient. But we’ve gotten away from the oral tradition, and with that authors have become detached from their audience, just as readers are removed from the author’s voice and inflection through the act of reading.

Earlier this week, I posted a podcast featuring my friend Tom Asacker. Tom discusses storytelling on the show, and how it is essentially a community function. “When you tell a story, you’re basically co-creating the story with your audience,” he says. “Why do we tell a story? We tell it so we can help our audience create their story in their mind’s eye, the scenes, the meaning.”

Note that Tom says “their story,” not “your story.” It’s not a slip of the tongue, it’s an indication that the community owns the material and the author, like a musician, is merely a vehicle by which it is delivered.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own approach to storytelling of late, particularly the storytelling that I do here, on this site (of which, curation is one part). I feel like I’m not getting the community part right, because on most days, there are very few comments, Facebook comments, Twitter replies and email requests from readers. It’s like there’s no one there, and that’s a weird feeling that doesn’t jive with our traffic reports. The reports say you are, in fact, there. But experience says only the tiniest percentage of you will engage. It might be the new normal, but it doesn’t feel right to me.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.