Category Archives: Models

Examples we can productively study

Curating Our Lives

            Jay Leno with his 1906 Stanley Steamer

We have our orderly collections, sometimes in real space, and sometimes captured in pixels or digital files. All give us ways to display what we want others to know about us.

Several years ago I wrote a essay wondering if we were done collecting.  At that time it was easy to notice that online music and “the cloud” had replaced music collections that used to line our walls.  The question was then answered in the affirmative, but I’m having second thoughts.  The impulse to convert our passions into materials that elaborate our lives seems deeper than I knew.  Most of us are active curators.  We just don’t think of ourselves with a word used to denote a person who decides what should hang on a gallery’s white walls.  And yet we have our orderly collections, sometimes in real space, and sometimes captured in pixels or digital files.  Collecting has its own internal rewards.  But I’m impressed with how many of us want to show off our passions to others.

This is obvious to any user of Facebook, Instagram or other forms of social media.  Facebook dramatically displays images of ourselves and the things and images we will allow to stand in for us. Selfies in particular can become galleries presenting the self-conscious self. We also use social media to relay pieces of the culture that we want others to like as much as we do. Most of the time a post includes a moment when we at least ask ourselves the central curatorial question: Is this post worth my association with it?

Older forms of personal curating continue as well.  Model railroaders curate their collections with the passion of medievalists working at the Met.  Guitarists rarely have just one instrument; most acquisitions represent a new point on their own learning curve. A lot of of us can’t resist a rare find carefully brought home to gather dust next to others like it. Even a few of us have tattoos forever memorializing moments when exuberance exceeded caution.

You probably live near a town known for its antique emporiums, used book stores and flea markets.  All are ready to sell everything from art-deco ashtrays to old lobby posters promoting films. Those stores are a reminder that while we may be done hunting for the basics of life, we are still eagerly gathering.


Alas, after the original curator of a collection leaves the scene, our collections may end up packed away in the attics of our still puzzled heirs.


Collecting turns out to be an acceptable way to have too much stuff.  Jay Leno has over a hundred rare cars. Retired newsman Jim Lehrer collects old buses. One of my grandmothers had a prominent display of miniature spoons with the names of such exotic places as Salt Lake City and Tulsa.

But collecting can also have a social function of representing something we hold close to our core identity. The stuff that stays around is emblematic of an individual’s enthusiasms: an expression of a personal aesthetic that still has meaning.

And so we reach the communication angle. In some way a collection on display stakes a claim about who we are. It marks crucial antecedents. We use things to be proxies of our unique affinities and aspirations.  I could bore you with the reason a large model Rio Grande Railroad boxcar is my own Renoir.  But it’s enough to note that it sits on a shelf in a ‘man cave,’ ready to be the trigger for a story that is almost never requested.

Alas, like meaning, collections are not easily transferable.  After the original curator of any collection leaves the scene, those carefully chosen pieces may end up packed away in the attics of our still puzzled heirs.

Helpful Ready Responses

A mind reels at the possibilities for instant pre-written responses.

My version of gmail now comes not only with messages from colleagues and others, but also some preset  phrases inserted at  the bottom that I can click as potential responses.  These seem designed for moments when actually writing back  to another person might be just too much work.  Instead, just find the response that comes the closest to what you might have said.  “Thanks for letting me know” or “Yes, you can do that” are just two of three  buttons I recently received in a message.  The other is at the top of this page. Given these genial options all emphasizing agreement, I’m glad the message was not some sort of dire threat.

A mind reels at the possibilities for instant pre-written responses.  No need to put oneself in the picture by writing a reply appropriate to a specific message.  We can now do the email equivalent of a robocall.  It’s a case of a person and a machine switching places: the program is in charge; you just have to muster the energy to move that very heavy cursor to a choice you can live with.

And, by the way, who actually says “Nope, that’s fine”?  That was the third suggested option in my recent e-mail. It’s an answer with a negative and affirmative response.  It seems destined to sew confusion. What if the receiver is given a green light for the wrong thing but a red light for something that is fine?  For example, your deadbeat uncle takes up residence in your house, but is careful to heed an apparent request to not eat last night’s leftovers.

The folks at Google clearly have too much time on their hands.  But as long as the effort has been made, why not go for some grand rhetorical fireworks in the “one-button-answers-all” department?  The responses could advance from simple modesty to barely contained rage:

Oops.  Sorry.  My mistake.

Yes, I think you should do it.  Let me know how it works out.

Looks like things are slow at work.

Sounds like our colleague has been skipping his meds.  

Happy to do it, but for a fee.

Sorry:  that was my typo. I meant I’m good at math, not meth.

How does “never!” sound? 

Putting out complete topics or thoughts in closed option responses never makes much sense.  You know  the feeling if you need to “talk” to someone in a customer service person in a  business.  Instead, you end up on a ferris wheel of pre-recorded binaries that completely miss your reasons.  Entering this world, Google’s step seems more like a stumble, using machine generated language and faux cheerfulness in place of a dialogue.