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Posted by on May 5, 2011

Curation, reduction, and haiku: less is more and the art of disciplined destruction

I was thinking a bit on short-form writing as a means of curation, well specifically about Twitter as an exercise in curation. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that curation is an expression of learning and knowledge construction. That we shape our systems, our knowledge constructs, and our beliefs on their efficiency in dealing with the needs and questions presented in life. A whole host of learning theory goes farther than I ever can in establishing that so I don’t want to add too much there. 

What I do believe is that curation is just a much an expression of an active engagement with the world, an engagement assumed in lifelong learning, as any sort of active construction. In short, the reduction of something is evidence of learning as much as construction of something. We build, we refine, we adapt, we alter. 

I was thinking of this in terms of Twitter lists. First, Twitter (writing was trending towards an emphasis on shorter forms, but Twitter really accelerated this) reintroduces shortform writing as the modus operandi of communication. Staccato bursts at 140 characters a bit mirrored an existing practice of mobile SMS/texting. Less is more, short and to the point. I am convinced in a short span many of us became better writers precisely because we were penned in. Not unlike the rigorous box of website design. Or a painting on canvas. Or elevator speeches. Or… I find myself refining my bursts of information on Twitter more than I do my own long-form writing. Le mot juste and Ezra Pound rearing their head from beyond the grave. 

“Le mot juste became the shibboleth of English Flaubertians like Ford, from whom Pound learnt that poetry should be just as well written as pose”. (Ruthven, 1990)

Just some fantastic gobbledygook in that quote. 

So Twitter gives impetus to let mot juste, the shibboleth becoming the construct itself (not the right word, but the right sequence of 140 characters), all while emphasizing thrift (140 characters) and indulgence (as often as you want). We see both curation and unlimited construction there. 

And that fleeting, ephemeral signal to noise ratio. The more evidence of activity, the more noise, the more filtering is necessary to convert that chaos into structure. So we fall back on age old standards, ones we have been using for centuries, and create lists and offload this list creation to automated algorithms. These algorithms are evaluated, refined, and tested. Constant tinkering and curation, constant ebb and flow of signal to noise.It reminds me a bit of Japanese haiku or Korean sijo:

He says a word and I say a word-autumn is deepening -Kyoshi Takahama

That I might capture the essence of this deep midwinter night and fold it softly into the waft of a spring-moon quilt-Then fondly uncoil it the night my beloved returns- Hwang Chin-i

Both of these are stunningly and deceptively simple. Their structure masks their depth and, like the best literature, they enter your consciousness through the back door, germinate, and enrich you well after the fact. That is what Twitter is like; it does enrich you if you are listening carefully, properly, prudently. So, as learners, it is out responsibility to curate these lists, destroy that which does not flower, refine, and repeat. 

I am not sure we can be considered lifelong learners of any merit unless we create and curate in such a fashion. I am not limiting the medium to writing, but rather that pursuit of utility, even perfection. To find the perfect something for that situation. To express, however ephmeral, the nature of our existence. I would argue that a lot of this expression, being perfectly suited to context (the time and place and urgency of understanding) can be found in short-form communications on Twitter and SMS. 

What impact does it have? That is another question, but that begs the question of expression, the utility of the whole thing. Do we create for an audience or rather because we are compelled to? Probably a bit of both (ideally a bit of both), but a deep midwinter night is just as beautiful with one pair of eyes as thousands. So go and refine those lists, knock it down a few characters (I obviously haven’t here). Chisel something meaningful from the gristle, expose the marrow. Do it often and do it on the move. Be mobile and nuanced and reflective and precise and expansive and embrace all those contradictions. 

 

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