The Need For Curators and Editors

Published:  11/04/2023

This post is about the need for curators and editors of information. Curators are keepers or custodians of a collection (in this post I am referring to curators of knowledge), and editors are those that screen, trim, and ultimately determine the final content of a produced work. These people have a lot of power over the information that reaches us. In this country and at this time, there is a widely held opinion that information should be free, fast, unfiltered, and unencumbered.

I understand this sentiment, and I think it mostly has merit. In general, don’t want the truth kept from me by officials that deem the information too dangerous or sensitive for me to handle. I also don’t want someone withholding vital truths so that they can monopolize the benefits that such knowledge can provide. Secrecy, like darkness, has the power to deceive and hide corruption. Bad actions and malfeasance should be exposed. Sun light is the best disinfectant. Censorship and cancel culture also threaten the freedom of information. 

However, secrecy isn’t the only way to keep valuable information from people. It’s also possible to hide truth under an avalanche of junk information, triviality, falsehoods, and nonsense.
Imagine a shady lawyer representing an unethical company. The lawyer wants to hide incriminating memos and emails from opposing counsel, so the lawyer inundates the other side with a huge trove of banal emails and mundane memos. This makes finding the incriminating evidence extraordinarily difficult. Whether by design or not, this is what the information age has done to all of us. We are being overwhelmed by all the information being thrown at us each day. Much of the information is incomplete, misleading, dishonest, wrong, or just plain trivial. I believe we need a filtering process.   

We see the need for a filter when we look at the crazy internet generated conspiracy theories that so many people have fallen for. For example, there is the flat Earth conspiracy (some people believe the world is flat) and the more harmful Sandy Hook conspiracy (some people believe that child actors were used to fake a mass shooting at an elementary school). I could provide a dozen more high-profile examples. There is a never-ending list of crazy nonsense that people spread online, and millions of people fall for it every day.

The need for filtering is evident when you see the sheer amount of news that is thrown at viewers. Each story is presented as vitally important, and most are alarming. In the past, people might have received a curated set of news stories as much as twice a day (the morning paper and the evening news). Today, the news is available 24 hours on demand, and it is thrown in our faces all day through our phones and other devices. People who open social media platforms several times per day are often fed news stories each time they scroll through their feeds. This isn’t healthy because these news organizations use alarming titles to capture our attention. They know (like the social media platforms know) that content that creates outrage and produces negative emotions is more engaging. That negative content will command more of our time and attention. This time and attention could be better spent.

The need for filtering is clear when watching a set of videos on YouTube or TikTok. Currently, more content is uploaded every minute on these platforms than can be watched in a lifetime. Most of this content is junk and not worth our time. Even if we could reliably bypass the garbage, it is impossible to know what to watch since we: 1) cannot know beforehand the precise content of any video and 2) we may not know enough about a topic to know which videos to choose.

Regarding point two, you see this among students trying to learn something like Statistics. Which videos are appropriate for a student’s current level of understanding? If you are a beginner, it is impossible to know what is appropriate for your current level. An expert that knows the learning process can guide you through it, and they will know what is appropriate for any level of understanding. Imagine trying to learn Calculus before learning Algebra.       

What kind of filter can we deploy to help us then? I believe this is where human curators and editors have a role. These subject matter experts filter what is presented to us and structure the information flow so that we can focus on the truly valuable pieces of information and/or receive the information in the appropriate sequence. A curator is usually an expert in a particular field and can provide you with a carefully chosen list of things to experience to establish the same level of expertise he/she has.

For example, a music historian might be able to provide a list of artists and works that you should be aware of if you are interested in understanding and appreciating musical history or the development of music. Likewise, a good book editor reads widely in a specific area and therefore can make informed decisions about what new work is worthy of being published.
Obviously, this is a lot of power to give to a relatively small number of individuals. Editors miss the genius in some works, and often promote other works that are not worthy of the attention. Curators might leave out important items that are worthy of consideration. Therefore, care is needed when choosing which curators and editors to trust, and certainly we shouldn’t rely on only one.
Forgoing these curators of knowledge, would leave us inundated with garbage information to the point that we miss far more of the worthy bits. Look out for biases and blind spots in the curators and editors you use, but don’t go the totally unfiltered route. Firstly, it is impossible to truly do this. If you rely on computer algorithms created by someone else to decide for you what to read, watch, and learn from, you are still using a curator, but the curator has been programmed to serve the needs and interests of its creator, not you. Secondly, you are likely to waste huge amounts of time with very little to show for it.

How to find good curation?
This is hard and getting harder. It used to be you could rely on quality publishing houses to find good books. Unfortunately, publishing houses have been having a hard time in this era of cancel culture and censorship. No mob (left or right) should be able to tell us what we can and can't read. Still, I think we can still trust that the books released by reputable publishing houses are higher quality than what is typically found on the web. You can search the web for content curator apps. For example, you can google, top curation tools for books or music. Some of these will be based on expert opinion, and some will be based on algorithms. Both have shortcomings but will probably still be more valuable that the algorithms found on most platforms that exist to slowly capture your attention. You can seek out the names of good movie or music critics to see what they recommend. Also, be creative in your search. One thing I like to do when looking for new music is to look at soundtracks for movies and shows. The people tasked with finding music for a show or movie are great at what they do. They will expose you to new and old material you have never listened to. Finally, avoid getting funneled into ideological homogeneous places. If you read and listen to the same kinds of voices all the time, you will almost certainly end up on one extreme or the other. That’s no way to find the truth or the most useful information for your growth. Find the best thinkers you can on opposing sides of any issue. Be open to their arguments but don’t blindly accept everything expressed. The more you read, listen, and learn, the more errors you will spot in even the most carefully presented arguments.