Chick-fil-A has delicious waffle fries. So delicious. But before getting in to the content of this post, I should locate myself by stating that I have not purchased anything from this company in over a year, and I will never consume those warm checkered squares of potato-y goodness again. The reason for this (in case anyone has been living under a rock/in a dissertation shaped bubble) is that the company explicitly opposes same-sex marriage. I am explicitly anti-bigotry, and so I do not purchase food from Chick-fil-A
Okay, now I can theorize.
The case of Chick-fil-A, and its debaters on both sides, is useful for delving deeper into issues of reality curation—an idea I wrote about previously. As a brief overview, reality curation is the flip-side of self-presentation. In the former, we curate information going out, and in the latter, we curate information coming in. In particular, we curate incoming information in confirmatory ways, seeking out that which appeals to our political, religious, and affective sensibilities.
Using the Twitter buzz surrounding Chick-fil-A, I work here to make three additional and interrelated points about reality curation. First, I argue that reality curation is not a digital phenomena, but amplified by pervasive digitality. Second, I argue that reality curation is required in a digitally connected era. Finally, I argue that reality curation takes place at multiple levels, as users interact differentially with the affordances of a technology.
Reality curation is not new, nor is it unique to digitally mediated communication. Indeed, we curate reality through the newspapers we choose to read, the television stations we choose to watch, the people we choose to befriend and the topics we choose to broach with chosen friends. Pervasive digitality, however, amplifies curation—making it more explicit and visible. With the affordances of digital technology, one not only chooses the slant of their information, but actively and explicitly navigates to do so. For instance, one can implicitly curate their reality of the Chick-fil-A controversy by turning the channel to Fox News versus MSNBC. More explicit, however, is the navigation on Twitter to the #LiberalFastFood versus #ConservativeFastFood (the former in support of Chick-fil-A and conservative policies, the latter in opposition to Chick-fil-A and support of liberal policies).
This leads to my second point: that explicit reality curation is required in a digitally mediated world. A hallmark of the contemporary era is the abundance of information—including an array of voices. This amalgamation of views, facts, stories, and perspectives necessitates the active practice of sifting and selecting. To participate on Twitter, for example, one must choose to Follow some instead of others—engaging in what I call selective connection—and they must both seek out and ignore particular topics—engaging in what I call selective visibility. Indeed, the viewer is responsible for sifting through the chatter about Chick-fil-A in a way that makes it comprehensible, and this clarifying process necessarily involves active reality curation.
This reality curation, however, can and does take place at many levels, and varies with the ways in which users engage the technology. That is, although digital mediation requires reality curation, users vary in the extent to which they curate. In the case of Twitter, information can be narrowed down to different levels. One might curate reality by typing Chick-fil-A into the Twitter search function, choosing to “let in” lay discourses surrounding the controversy. Curating further, one may search by opinion-specific hashtags (such as #LiberalFastFood/ #ConservativeFastFood discussed above). Similarly, one may go to a specific Tweep—an individual or institution— who tends to tweet in a particular vein, and follow the discourse from this one Tweep’s perspective. Most interestingly, however, is that users have the potential to engage in all of these practices simultaneously, or engage in curation at a consistently broad or narrow level.
Reality curation has always been a part of human social life. We constantly make conscious and unconscious decisions about what to hear, see, feel, know, and experience. The potentialities of digital mediation, however, amplify this practice. They make it explicit and required. How we know affects what we know, and we are highly agentic in this process.