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Is curation killing curiosity?

The curation of our online shopping and browsing choices, whether by sophisticated technology serving us ads or by a team of humans, is the new normal. Even one of my trade newsfeeds advertises itself as “curating” news. 

On a recent hotel tour with my students, our host pointed out the items in rooms and on property that were curated — music choices, library books, art. It dawned on me how the “curated approach” is not new. Choosing the art for a hotel or the muzak in the elevators and even the choice of employees are part of curating an experience. Museum professionals and DJs have been doing this for, oh, I don’t know, a long time. That is why you visit a museum, follow a radio station or select a hotel — because those connoisseurs have sifted through the choices and selected to hang, to spin, to create something with a particular point of view that appeals to a spectator, a listener and a traveler.

Lately, I can’t hear the word “curated” wondering if there is such a thing as too much curation. Anyone who appreciates the climactic scene of the 1988 movie “Working Girl” knows that it was a single page from the New York Daily News’ Page 6 — two random, unrelated lines of gossip — that sparked the title character’s winning idea. More recently, the Super Bowl commercial from Jeep seems to have gotten it right, suggesting that travel happens when you “deny your curiosity too long.”

Over the past 15 years, consumer and tourism research has been published extensively about the value of surprising and delighting consumers; these findings are still cited in my students’ essays today. So, as I asked in my first post, what is the right question here?

Is the surprise in the curation? Like the prize in the Cracker Jack box? Is the surprise in what a hotel hasn’t promoted in advance and what remains for discovery on property? What is the right amount of curation?

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