Key Question:

How are identities enacted through the collection and curation of media?

In this article we look through the eyes of someone who grew up in a pre-digital era, to better understand how the commitment involved in curating music enabled him to enact his identity and associated values.

A recent opinion piece via the New York Times presents a number of insights that highlight some interesting differences between the generation that grew up ‘offline’ those who are growing up having never experienced disconnection and the need to physically pursue media content.

This commentator talks through his adolescent experiences, and how the act of carefully curating a personal music collection allowed him to inscribe his own sense of identity, and selectively create a network of friends who were enjoined by their commitment to departing the mainstream.


Choice quotes:

For me, adopting an indie-snob identity …gave me something to talk about with other pointy-haired youngsters I ran across. Now that we all share the same record collection, music snobs have no means to recognize one another.

Before [digital music services] solved the problem with music forever, esoteric taste was a measure of commitment…what you liked was a rough indicator of the resources you had invested in music.  

The bands you listened to conveyed not just the particular elements of culture you liked but also how much you cared about culture itself.

To care about obscure bands was to reject the perceived conformity of popular culture, to demand a more nuanced reading of the human experience … That assertion was central to my identity as a young adult, and I found that people who shared it were more likely to agree with me on seemingly unrelated issues. Like all aesthetics, taste in music is a worldview.

When getting into a band became as easy as typing its name into a search box, particular musical tastes lost their function as signifiers of commitment. What you listened to ceased to be a measure of how much you cared and became a mere list of what you liked.

It’s an interesting argument that deserves some attention within the context of better understanding the needs of a generation that was born into a pervasively connected, online world. We would argue that the act of curation remains to this day an important and valuable process, and that smarter ways of connecting with other like-minded people are constantly entering the market.