Collecting New Media

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06 February
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Window Shopping

The parallels between the Curiosity Cabinets of yesteryear and the digital collecting mechanisms of today have been frequently remarked upon in our discussions. Curiosity Cabinets or Wunderkammern allowed their creators to select and arrange a “jumble of unrelated and artificial objects,” and sites like flickr, tumblr, and Pinterest operate in much the same way. Of course, the key difference between the two is not insignificant. While the curators of Curiosity Cabinets physically possessed the items they organized, the keepers of digital collections don’t actually *own* anything. In fact, it’s unlikely that most users of these sites even personally store the jpegs they have chosen to represent the objects in their collections.

A few weeks ago, a fascinating piece in the Atlantic proposed the idea that “digital bookmarking is becoming the latest method in how we consume products in the 21st century.” In this article the author, Chris Tackett, remarks that, for him, the simple act of pinning or tagging an image can bring about a “pleasant rush of some pleasure-inducing chemicals,” nearly replicating the thrill that he previously experienced when making a new purchase.

Of course, this observation is anecdotal. There hasn’t been a study indicating that people who use bookmarking tools buy less merchandise (many might buy more!) or that their central nervous system lights up as they play around on the Internet. Still, I do think he’s onto something.

I don’t use Pinterest (and this is the first I’ve even heard of Svpply), but I’m constantly saving images of things I’d like to buy, or recipes I’d like to cook, or crafts I’d like to make. I almost never buy, or cook, or make any of these things. Yet, I find it supremely satisfying, almost relaxing to contemplate what I’d buy if I had money, or make if I had time. It’s as if just looking at something, selecting it, and then setting it apart is as emotionally fulfilling as actually buying or making it.

Tackett claims that these new kinds of sites are “encouraging anti-consumerist behavior” which he sees as a good thing given environmental concerns about “wasteful consumption” and quickly depleting resources. He also compares shopping to the “hunting and gathering behaviors we inherited from our evolutionary ancestors,” and  concludes that the Internet merely provides another outlet for this form of “foraging.”

If digital bookmarking really does satisfying the hunter-gatherer instinct, in the future will we still need to buy things at all? Will we own just the bare necessities (we’ll always need food and shelter…right?), and be content to show our taste, impress our friends, and show our status through images displayed online? Is ownership already becoming an antiquated notion?

On an unrelated note, we’ve discussed at length whether James Bridle’s “New Aesthetic” is really anything new. Maybe we can all agree that, new or old, it’s terribly ugly? Ugh, that couch!