Curation is a book about how curation became a buzzword - and why it's more interesting than you might think. 


Everything in excess is opposed to nature.
— Hippocrates
In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a longterm perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not ecommerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time – literally – substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.
— Peter Drucker
Weniger aber besser.
— Dieter Rams
 

Running a shop or a newspaper have always involved what we now call curation. What has changed is that curation has become ever more central to the activities and identity of those organisations. Hidden from view, even at times to those curating, it has become essential to their bottom lines. How much is curation already within and integral to our business model without us fully acknowledging that fact? How has the world changed so that we need new kinds of cultural and business intermediaries? 

We already live in a curated world. Walk around not just Paris or New York, but Buenos Aires, Bangalore and Beijing and you will be surrounded by curation; the shops, galleries, hotels, restaurants of course, but also homes and workspaces, work itself and leisure: if you are lucky enough to be even moderately wealthy in global terms, careful, expert selection is everywhere around you wherever you live. And whoever you are, on the Internet you cannot help but be confronted by a curated offering – of things to read, photos to look at, videos to watch, apps to download or people to follow – and to be a curator yourself in turn. 

The Japanese have a word – tsundoku – for the act of constantly buying more books but never actually reading them. Most of us have been there. It’s this kind of feeling that is now spreading at a societal level. Typically the Japanese have an answer for tsundoku. In Tokyo’s Ginza district there is a bookshop that sells only one book at a time. It’s a start. Patterns of selection and arrangement are, gradually, sometimes quietly and sometimes obviously, becoming more prevalent parts of our lives. Ignoring that isn’t an option. Mastering it means mastering the context of the twenty-first century.

Part I looks at how we ended up with problems of too much. It examines the engines of our rising productivity. Digital technology is the most obvious example of abundance today, but in fact most goods are, in some contexts, abundant – material products as well as informational ones. This is the result of a Long Boom beginning with the Industrial Revolution and continuing over the last two hundred years. Beyond that Part I looks at two symptoms of this abundance – the idea of overload, when too much of a good thing causes problems, and the creativity myth, our unwavering faith that creativity is always a positive.

Part II discusses the history of the term curation and looks to define its contemporary use in more detail. Why do I think selection in particular, but also concepts like arrangement, are so significant, the core principles of curation today? What do they mean, and how can we understand them in the context outlined in Part I? Along the way I look at related questions – how the Internet transformed curation and the impact made by algorithmic models of selection; the changing nature of retail; and then a host of ‘curation effects’ – both positive side effects and principles of curation. Understanding these principles hints at how curation can be seen as part of the arsenal deployed to combat overload.

Part III surveys prominent examples of businesses, organisations and individuals curating today. Given the sheer range of such activity it makes no claims to be encyclopaedic; instead I want to highlight interesting examples and tease out consequences. It also introduces some refinements and a new vocabulary of curation – implicit and explicit curation, thick and thin curation, a broadcast model and a consumer curated model of media