Curator Confusion

No one ever claimed the Internet to be The Land of Candor.

Never mind a state named Honesty. Or even a small municipality called Forthrightness.

An old expression goes like this: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Wikipedia, the crowd-sourced encyclopedia for the digital age, reports the expression as the caption to a 1993 New Yorker cartoon that has become the magazine’s most reproduced cartoon and has earned its creator more than $50,000 in reprinting fees.

One recent college graduate lists a lengthy set of credentials and professional experiences on his LinkedIn page.

LinkedIn, of course, is the social media site for professional business people.

Not the least of the impressive accomplishments, the grad notes, is “CEO.”

Of, coincidentally, a company named after himself.

In recent memory, the expression “curator” and its associated derivatives have become popular.

Web-based news sites, for instance, claim they carefully curate the stories they present to subscribers. In this instance, the term is synonymous with “steal.”

It’s not that they publish only the news that’s fit to print. Instead, the website claims they publish what other people have produced as a result of the originator’s own energy, their entrepreneurship and their investments. This used to be called reporting. Not to mention writing skill.

Once upon a time, “curator” was a professional title most often associated with people in certain positions who worked at museums. Such folks were custodians of a museum’s contents.

Which has nothing to do with dusting, cleaning or vacuuming.

Instead, curators functioned as gatekeepers by selecting objects for inclusion in the museum. This required a certain knowledge set – one far exceeding the “love it” or “hate it” judgment of amateurs.

Informally, in the antiques trade, it was called “knowing what you’re looking at.”

There was a certain well-deserved prestige associated with the curatorial role. A recognition that curators required academic, scholarly training that went well beyond what hoarders, accumulators and collectors might possess.

Most likely because it carried prestige, others sought to appropriate the title for themselves, if only to elevate their own status. Though without bothering with the education part.

In some ways, “curator” has become analogous to “therapist.” Anyone can hang out a shingle stating they are therapists. There are no license requirements. Nor any tests to take and pass. Just enough money to be able to pay for the sign.

The effect of such (self-appointed) title inflation is to both trivialize the profession and confuse the unwitting.

The dogs in the cartoon knew who they were.

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