On the matter of "curating", the snob effect and jumping on the bandwagon

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(Image: assembledhazardly.com)


I bet you probably saw this coming, didn't you?

I'll bet that you've been wondering what the heck I'm doing with my endless Instagram posts of clothing and home goods and food and purchases and all the while espousing some terrible spiel about consuming less and more discerningly. Yes, I confess I've fallen off the high horse and I've given in to keeping up with the endless pictures of flowers, brunch and shoes. I've been trying to keep up with the holidays, and artisanal jewelry and the artfully arranged coffee cups, and Kinfolk magazines (well, in my defense, I don't do the Kinfolk magazine bit because I find it slightly insulting to anyone with an ability to read, but that's a different story altogether).

Either way, I admit that I've been sucked into the vortex of false pretenses and keeping up with the Joneses who earn about 10x as much as I do through affiliate links. Why? I don't really know. Maybe it's the fact that I'm 30 (ish) and still in school, the fact that I will never be tall enough or rich enough or thin enough or know enough obscure artists or pottery makers. Maybe it's the fact that towards the end of my mid-life, all I have is a rented house and few pairs of designer shoes and the ability to name all The Beatles albums in chronological order, sing along to every single Morrissey song and quote 'Back to The Future' word for word ('McFly! Hoverboards don't work on water... unless you've got power!!!'). It's not a bad thing, being regular - except that nowadays, social media makes you feel like you're really just not good enough.

Over the past year or so, I've had the opportunity to travel to a few lower income countries. It has been a simultaneously interesting and depressing experience, mostly because the pace of globalization and development far outweighs the ability of the general population and the environment to prevail. While I'm glad that more people have access to clean water and education and healthcare (okay, I guess Pakistan is an exception), I've been extremely dispirited with the rate that the most fragile amongst us are being left behind, and the rate at which we seem to be plundering the earth whilst feeling that it's some sort of entitlement for merely being part of the human species. 

When you travel to Bhutan or Brazil as a tourist, all you see are the nice and sugar-coated things; you see the new architecture and the beautiful scenery and the remnants of an odd, bygone culture. You taste the churrasco at DOM, get foot massages at the Aman and profess how great the nightlife in São Paulo is. It irks me that people think that being peasants and having working-class communal dinners is trendy, without addressing the fact that most peasants and/or working-class people don't really have access to $10 beeswax candles and overpriced dinnerware or time to enjoy a communal dinner of haddock and freshly-picked mushrooms.  When you live in Bhutan or Brazil, you see how farmlands and hillslopes and villages are destroyed for mining and dams and World Cup stadiums. You see how hard people work for measly wages and for things that we in the higher income countries take for granted. You see how a piece of meat and homemade cheese and homegrown chilli peppers from your yard in the village will make the most delicious meal because you've worked so hard and don't get to see your family for years on end.

What I've found amusing lately is this new fangled obsession with "curation" - a term that yupsters with time for leisurely pursuits seem to throw around as if they've spend years in training learning the fine art of slapping together several Futagami trivets and Ann Demeulemeester jackets.  It used to be that being a curator meant that you had a degree in the fine arts, or history or something meaningful that allowed you to defend your choices in the matter you "curated".  If you were a curator in a Museum of Modern Art, it meant that you needed to be learned in the works and life of Sebastião Selgado or Joseph Beuys. I'm not even sure if most people know who Oji Masanori is or that Ann Demeulemeester left the company last year. The new direction of "curation" these days veer towards the spartan and heritage and the Japanese. In some bizarre twist of fate, the Japanese who invented the whole wabi-sabi aesthetic is falling for this scheme; Kinfolk magazine is so wildly popular in Japan, the good folks at Kinfolk had to create a Japanese-language magazine and a peasantry-based set of clothing just for them.  The funny thing also, is that the well-curated stores are almost always similar - minimalist website design, quirky item descriptions, the same Japanese household items or the same line of clothing by certain people known for prints and dresses Made in India etc., etc. The only thing different is the timeline of when things go on sale and the prices.

I bring this up because I'm no less guilty of trying to "curate" my life - from the coffee I drink to the dishware I use and the rugs I own. It used to be that people just called it good taste; these days, choosing the right paraphernalia for your home or your body is supposedly a skilled artistry. Some people even choose the skincare they use based on the packaging and how it looks in their bathroom (hint: Aesop). The New York Times ran an article a few years ago on how the word curate may be a reflection of self-inflation (ironically, the article was written by the spouse of a well-known online lifestyle "curator"). I find it particularly true that most people who swing the word "curate" around nonchalantly seem to be the ones that are most pretentious and judgmental

In 1950, Leibenstein wrote about the snob effect and the bandwagon effect which are essentially microeconomic theories on consumer demand and preference. It seems to me that more than ever these days, that people tend to display both social phenomenons. I'm not entirely sure if it's social media enabling the bandwagon effect but snobs seem to garner copycats and followers almost instantaneously. Everyone always seems to be going on about something that isn't really even that good, and only because someone else said it was good. Maybe I'm the judgmental asshole who thinks that everything isn't good enough. Anyhow, I'll give the example of the quality of a certain well-known Japanese linen company that has its products sold in every "well-curated" store known to man. While cheaper than other brands, the quality just doesn't hold up to the ones from Libeco (Belgian linen) or Brahms Mount (woven in the USA, source slightly shady) or the ones that Alder & Co. sells that are manufactured in France. Thorstein Veblen argued in 'The Theory of the Leisure Class' that lower-status members of a society tended to emulate the higher-status class in order to move up in status. Anyone who disagrees with this theory need only look toward Instagram and the mass infiltration of the same pictures with the same coffee cups and magazines over and over again.

All these point to "curate" being the new terminology for the "snob effect". I suspect that coffee, brass trivets and hand-sewn shoes are becoming Veblen goods even though the shoes don't quite fit right or the trivets leave scratches on your table. Why settle for local roasters that charge $12/lb of Yirgacheffe when it makes you that much more pretentious to buy from microroasters that charge $22/lb for the very same beans albeit in a "minimalist" packaging? Can you really taste the finer nuances of melon and strawberries or are you going by what the package says? Which brings me back to my obtuse story about traveling to Brazil. The family I stayed with owned a coffee plantation and could tell the price and quality of the coffee just looking at the raw beans. When I asked if I could get whole, fresh roasted beans so I could lovingly grind it in my Hario Skerton which I lugged all the way across the continent in my carry-on, they laughed in my face and said, "Who has time for that?!"

And maybe that's why I find this whole thing about curating so irksome, that some people have taken what is really an upper-class, slightly elitist terminology and applying to consumer goods meant for the middle-class plebs. We're all pretending to be part of the leisure class when the we're really just at the higher percentile of the income curve with some time to waste. I don't know about you, but the bohemian mothers and the Brooklyn hipsters with the same sheepskin rugs (guilty!) and Eames chairs (guilty!) and the Kaico pans (guilty!) and Chemex coffeemakers (guilty!) don't exactly scream high class to me. It just says that we all kind of like the same items, can afford nice thing, have access to same goddamned websites, and follow the same people on social media. We also probably have a knack for procrastination and a tendency to argue on forums while we pound away on computers for work. Say we have good tastes, say we like the finer things in life, say we like artisan goods but don't say we "curate" our homes or we shop from "finely-curated" stores because it doesn't really mean anything and we're just really jumping on the bandwagon.

P.S.: I feel like I've contradicted myself somewhere but I'm not entirely sure. Also, I apologize for my lack of cohesion in the above rant. My lack of reading of any useful material lately has definitely taken a toll on my ability to reason logically.

77 comments :

  1. I saw that Kinfolk clothing line--it was all just oversized linen shirts. Why, other than buying into the lifestyle, should I buy their iteration as opposed to other stores' equally viable and much more affordable versions?

    I think your last paragraph really hits it on the head--Instagram has turned into the same 4-5 memes of pictures (and I'm guilty of a few cliches myself-- #fromwhereistand, #nomz in particular.)

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    1. The funny thing is that the Kinfolk line of clothing doesn't even look something normal people would wear - it seems oddly suited for Scandinavians but using a Japanese aesthetic?

      I'm definitely guilty of the cliches, in fact more so than most people I follow on Instagram which makes me feel simultaneously hypocritical and disgusted that I'm not even sure why I care so much.

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  2. I've been struggling with these issues too, so thanks for doing such an eloquent job of giving voice to it. Sometimes life is messy, ugly and cluttered - and really, that's okay. But it can be hard to remember that when you're on Instagram.

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    1. Instagram is like Martha Stewart Living, The Hills and a Nordstrom shopping catalog all rolled into one and every single time you access the app or the website, it's flooding your senses with nice things and positive glimpses into peoples lives that make someone as highly insecure as I am quite a bit more unsure of myself.

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  3. Thank you! I almost want to cry with relief that someone else is feeling this frustrated and laugh at how true and stupid it all is. Sometimes I love that I live in a shitty box apartment with bland beige carpet and mismatched furniture because I just can't go that far and I don't have that income and its sort of a relief to see something different than what I look at online all day. And yet I still love to look!!! What is wrong with us?

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    1. Aspiration. That's why we look. It's human nature to always think things are better on the other side when we can't see behind the scenes. And also, I don't about you, but I think I tend to look more at other people's lives with envy when I'm unhappy (even if slightly) about my own. Some days I want to just sit in my Target underwear with a barrel of fried chicken and a box of cheap beer and not really care if I have BBQ sauce everywhere.

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  4. I've read and re-read your post three times now. I've even gone away to think about it... Is this your way of saying "if you can't beat them, join them"?

    I can't help but feel like schmuck sometimes... I studied for 6 years, have worked in my industry for almost 10... And then there is a girl blogging about stacking donuts into a cake earning more than me. I felt even more rant-y when I read this article:
    https://au.lifestyle.yahoo.com/marie-claire/news-and-views/latest/a/24136553/do-you-have-instagram-envy/
    Honestly if squinting into the sun until it hurts to get the right shot or spilling powder on your Instagram arrangement is the biggest of your problems, then believe me when I tell you - you have it pretty f-ing good! (Unless of course there is more to each sob story than that!)

    Ok, rant over :)

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    1. Ummmmm.... yeah. My ramblings tend to be slightly obtuse and illogically structured sometimes. But my point is that I'm fed up of everyone being a curator or being a trendsetter or whatever it is when they are in fact sheeple themselves. It's boring and contrived. All the Instagram pictures look the same, the blogs look the same, the people look the same... and yet somehow they make bank because they're selling themselves as a curator of some sort?

      Not sure if you know who The Pink Peonies is, but apparently she makes $960k through affiliate links and she can barely structure a sentence but "curates" for Nordstrom and Kate Spade. The girl stacking donuts forgot that a cake stand isn't an ingredient ;-)

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  5. Interesting post.

    I've been feeling for a while that I'm sick of the same flat lay images with empty Diptyque candle holders filled with pink peonies, macarons, half-open Mac Books and some item of Chanel make up artfully distributed. All of them look exactly the same. Which makes me wonder if people actually like this stuff (for the record, I think they're all perfectly nice things) or if they just like a perception they present which is derived from seeing it elsewhere, generally a high profile blog. Then things repeat and repeat and repeat until people start wondering if there's something wrong with them if they aren't liking or doing it. I'm as guilty as anyone of feeling like this or coveting something because I saw it on Instagram.

    That said, everyone curates their own life. Curating just means making a conscious choice and that could apply to anything from what I'm having for dinner to who my friends are. It's only wankers who use that term in an effort to try and tell everyone their choices are cooler or better than someone else's.

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    1. For what it's worth, I never understood the appeal of macarons other than the fact that it photographs really well. The Eames molded chairs are extremely uncomfortable to most people I now, and honestly, why one needs Macbook if you're not really coding or doing high-res graphic design is beyond me. I'm basically agreeing with your premise that a lot of time it's the bandwagon effect that comes into play and most people are pretty gullible especially when it comes to emulating people that they perceive to be at a higher social status.

      Call me a word pedant but I hate how the word "curate" has been taken so far out of context, it basically serves as a self-aggrandizing form of saying "select". Maybe it's the culture we live in that places personal worth above actual societal good.

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  6. I am so onboard with these sentiments. I am so incredibly tired of people making every choice an aesthetic one that needs to be documented and waxed lyrical about when it is actually quite a trivial thing (which I think is why I dislike Kinfolk magazine, because its content is basically 100% just that - like a guy writing an entire page about how special it is for him to use his grandmother's heirloom silverware, which is just special because he seems to desperately want to forcefully make it into something special). And I have been over the word "curated" for a very long time - in terms of how preposterous/pretentious it is, it's on par with Gwyneth's "conscious uncoupling" terminology. Pretending that buying shit, albeit thoughtfully, is "curating" is again just trying to add value and meaning to ultimately trivial things.

    I think to some extent this "my aesthetic choice is so meaningful!" attitude is partly driven by the whole need-for-uniqueness theory (people want to feel that they have unique identities and are special, unique people, so they try to demonstrate their uniqueness through a wide range of purchases - the more artisanal and bespoke and authentic, the better). Another factor might be the current generation of young people having such poor prospects in the employment market, so they try to find meaning in little things like small purchases, the choice of one product over another. Maybe because job prospects are so poor, people are inhibited from obtaining a sense of identity through their work, so they try to achieve that sense of identity through their consumer purchases to a greater extent than previous generations (because baby boomers aren't quite so compelled to document their Byredo candles and Fog Linen napkins and Aesop hand creams and Rose Bakery cookbooks on Instagram).

    That's partly why I've moved on a bit from Empty Emptor and started a more focused blog - there's so much blogging that puts aesthetic-driven consumerism on a pedestal that I want to make absolutely sure I'm not doing that in any way (I had an old post or two at EE about Isabel Marant Dicker boots, and Dicker boots simply do not need any more blog words written about them, ever) and I want to try to get people to appreciate other things in the world, like scientific and economic research, instead of scrolling through "curated" collages of potential purchases based on colour palettes taken from a screencap of the latest Wes Anderson movie or whatever. I mean, obviously people will seek and find the content they want, regardless, but at least I feel like I'm adding something constructive to the world, no matter how small that something is and no matter the fact it's only reaching a few people.

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    1. Your point about the possibility that people seek meaning in little things because of poor prospects - I was just thinking about this lately! Career prospects-wise, I'm actually doing well enough at my job, but after a particularly stressful week I was suddenly obsessed with sunglasses, in the most indulgent, navel-gazing way possible: I fussed about the make, the type of lens, the heritage of the brand/maker. The stress at work was making me question whether I still found my job meaningful and worth the pain and conversely, the littlest things, like where I got my afternoon coffee became extremely important. So maybe looking for meaning in material things is partly a result of the need to take one's mind off bigger problems. Just because a lot of time and effort went into something doesn't mean it's something worth putting on a pedestal.

      Also, if you gew up reading American Vogue, you can't escape this phenomenon of "tastemakers" - I think people have always wanted to know what the people with the means are into and that glimpse into their wonderful, manicured lives. With the internet and rise of niche publications, the types of " good taste" might have widened beyond the typical jet setter to include your Kinfolk-ish types, but the reason why these tastemakers can always find a following hasn't changed - they seduce you with a delightful way of life that seems attainable if you can some how also procure the right things. I think people are drawn to the fantasy that their lives will somehow feel more elevated if they do so - I am too, susceptible to this. I pretty much bought the watch I wear now because Jackie O had the same one and man, that woman had style. But it would seem pretty shallow to admit that - it's better to provide a long erudite explanation, than to admit that I was you know, just girl-crushing.

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    2. Oh I forgot to add, thought-provoking post as always, Amanda. I too, come back from holidays sometimes depressed by what I see. I haven't yet figured out what I should be doing with this feeling. I've donated to the odd local NGO supporting sustainable local development and education, but that feels very lame, relative to the size of the problems out there. I did like the fact on my last holiday, I went diving with a company that provided good jobs to people who would have been earning a very poor and unsustainable income on fishing. I think being a tourist in a country with shocking poverty and rich/poor divides, the only way to not feel like a shit is to try and make your tourist dollar go towards something worthwhile.

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    3. It is an interesting point indeed, how our generation may be seeking meaning somewhere else than in our career. And I believe it may apply to the identity in general, and this raising above our social class dream. Until my parent's generation, people believed that a good education, rewarded by a solid degree, would help getting a better job, leading to having a successful career that would help earn more money and raise to a superior social class. Most baby boomers I know (from my parents & grandparents generation) thought that way. But our generation of Master's degree unemployed graduates doesn't believe in that anymore. I think most even fear they will be below their parent's income in the end. So it might make sense that people try to assess their identity, carve their way through a higher social class through material social symbols instead. And in the case of these "curators", this is designer brands and Kinfolk aesthetics and all that bandwagon indeed...

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    4. Jess, your comment puts my entire post to shame. Thank you for saying in three paragraphs what I intended to convey through my rambling prose.

      I completely agree that the individualistic culture of our generation and consistency of being told that we are "special" is one of the main reasons people these days seem to be so much more entitled and self-aggrandizing. Kids get awards for just showing up to school, or you're encouraged to build your "personal brand" or "you're your own person" - that sort of thing. If everyone is special, then nothing really is special anymore is it?

      The funny thing is that the only people I know who really seem bent on documenting their social status are the millennials and those whose incomes derive from putting their lives on display (bloggers for instance) Most *regular* people just don't care enough or have enough time. And the ones that seem to need to "curate" or find themselves using the terminology to describe themselves consist of a very small sliver of the very entitled and privileged.

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    5. I agree that Jess has summed up exactly what I agree with in this post. I also think that this idea of curation is about extending the process of consumption for those with limited financial ability to buy the things they want, and about spending the free time that a lot of undermployed people have. But, I think that the idea of curation comes directly out of the vocabulary and skills of arts education that so many of these undermployed people have under their belts, rather than an ignorance of the skills of a gallery or museum curator (and I think that the degrees advertised as professional training for these careers are also pretty recent inventions). I wonder if this idea of curation is truly a millenial phenomenon: Lin points to earlier tastemakers, and I can think of examples coming from books and films of the early 20th century of women coveting and preparing for the purchase of single hats or cosmetics to a pretty intense degree. Maybe the middle class baby boomer logic where if you want something, you forget all the hemming and hawing and just go out and buy it is the historical exception rather than the rule, and instagram is just making this way of consuming more visible.

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  7. You. Rock. Honestly! I always found the appropriation of "curate" really funny. I worked in an archaeological curation facility for several years. "Curate" means "we will put all these rocks into a database, regardless of whether or not they are nice looking artifacts, and then store them in a cardboard box on a shelf in perpetuity."

    It's just like eating a really specific diet (for no honest health reasons) - a way of dealing with wealth and a multitude of choices that overwhelm us. So we come up with "reasons" to help us choose - when really, we might not need a thing at all.

    And anyone who thinks they aren't wealthy should travel a bit. As you pointed out.

    I don't like having lots of stuff around. But that can be accomplished without being so... fancy... about it.

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    1. A second thought this raises: I grew up in a pretty crunchy rural area, raised by a single mom. We didn't have tons of money, so we did the normal stuff: thrift stores, reusing hats as storage, baking or own bread, etc. I feel like a lot of this aesthetic is trying to recreate these "simple" (ahem) ways of living... But spending a lot on it. I've never been able to figure out if that confuses me, offends me, or cracks me up. But sometimes I want to yell "you are so not the first person to drink out of a canning jar!"

      As someone in an entirely different situation once said: all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

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    2. Oops, hats? I meant jars. But now maybe I'll start a hat-storage trend.

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    3. Yes! Thank you! I'm going back and editing the post to reflect that I am so irked by the appropriation of the word curate. Most people don't even know what the word means. Like I said above in response to themustardjumper, maybe I'm a word pedant but it's extremely annoying when people use the word in order to inflate the importance of the work they are actually doing. You're not. You're just "selecting" a few pretty things and
      slapping it together in a store or a blog or an Instagram page.

      I get how the simple living, back to basics theme can be appealing, but it definitely negates the whole point of the philosophy if you end up just accumulating even more shit.

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    4. Ha! Yes! I totally agree with you. When I hear curate, I think archaeology and museum collections immediately because that is my background as well. Who knows how long it will be until cardboard boxes will be the next mainstream fashion curating tool? I spent a lot of time in college and before that doing digs, database, cataloging, etc and it drives me crazy how much this word is being used in blogging. I'm going to write another comment below, but I couldn't help adding in on this :)

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  8. I'm pretty much off Tumblr and Pinterest these days, as all the images look the same and there are too many visual cliches.

    I run a little online clothing shop, so I can't insulate myself from "curation" as much. But I'm much more into the idea of spending what money you have well, supporting small businesses and independent designers, and wearing/using what you have with joy. This is no small thing.

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    1. I love your shop, Leanne, and you stock from labels/designers that I have a lot of respect for which is great (Molly from Ambatalia is a real hoot). Y Thank you for leaving a comment and I hope readers will visit your lovely store - I'm still eying and saving for the beautiful Lauren Manoogian sweater!

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    2. Thank you for the kind words, Amanda, I've been a reader of your blog for a long time. Your compliment means a lot!

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  9. Hmmm, I've been thinking of many of the same things as well, especially the class dynamics and how the middle class/petite bourgeoisie are paying inordinate amounts of money for "simplicity." Does your closet count as minimal when it's bare because you're poor and/or broke? It's telling that minimalism/~*lifestyle curation*~, while it can be practiced by people with lower incomes, is often the domain of those who don't have to worry about actually needing to save a ton of things because they don't have the money to replace them "just in case." (Or conversely, tossing out everything they own so they can redesign their house as if it were a page from Kinfolk)

    While not wanting to own a houseful of clothes from Forever 21 is something I agree with, it also feels like the *simplicity* movement is a case those with means trying to differentiate themselves from the masses, and then placing themselves on a moral high ground when those below can't keep up. Ultimately, I guess my biggest issue is that people try to make aesthetic choices more virtuous than they are. Why can't people just say, "I like the way this looks, and the fact that its production process is more humane than normal is a plus"? Idk know where this is going exactly, but the whole pursuit of superficial and appropriative "wabi sabi" curation has always rubbed me the wrong way because of its lack of self-awareness regarding the privilege and snobbery that lies behind its philosophy and aesthetic. It doesn't bother me so much that everything looks the same, because that's just the way fads work, so much as the attitude behind those who buy into it. This also isn't to say that I don't somewhat fall into this aesthetic category as well, but I do try to be realistic and understanding that not everyone can nor wants to emulate the style/trend. I prefer to just say, "I liked it, so I bought/Instagrammed it" and keep pushing rather than write some tome about how I'm trying to live an "artfully curated life," or belittling the morality/tastes of people who could care less about owning Repetto flats and Eames chairs.

    P.S.: Although I find the phrase "curation" overused to the point of its meaning being neutered, I also agree with themustardjumper that everyone curates in the sense that at it's most basic level curation is simply making a conscious choice about what to include and exclude from certain areas of your life. BUT, I also briefly worked as a research assistant for curators at an art museum, so - contradicting myself - I too get annoyed when people conflate choosing the right Dipytque candle for their living room with designing an exhibit.

    P.P.S. WHY are there so many "boutique e-retailers" selling the same 10-12 brands? I mean on the one hand, I like that I can compare prices between a lot of different stores, but on the other it just seems like an overkill bubble that will inevitably burst.

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    1. Hee, I somehow feel like this was a slight dig at me (and fittingly so, because I'm a big hypocritical snob), but you're absolutely right that this whole "minimalist" aesthetic that is so trendy has lost its actual significance. It's like Bo mentioned above - the whole baking bread, crunch granola lifestyle is suddenly trendy but in an exponentially expensive way. It's particularly offputting when tastemakers or trendsetter or whoever suddenly becomes a master baker or earth tiller and act as if they were the first ones in the history of humanity to do it. Please, billions of people still bake bread at home and rear chickens and do it not because it's trendy but because it puts food on the table.

      I am in the process of writing a post on minimalism and how many bloggers seem to think minimalist dressing = expensive black and white clothing. So I'll address some of your comments then!

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    2. I am definitely excited to read what you write! And I didn't have you in mind specifically with my comment, I think it was more of a general rant that I didn't know I had in me! Sometimes, you read something and it just sparks a furious tangent...

      But if it sparked some introspection then I'm glad! While food allergies and an ambivalence to home decor mean I've been somewhat able to avoid the Kinfolkiness of Instagram lately, I know your post forced to own up to the hypocrisy of my own internet presence.

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    3. I'm beginning to think that the (for lack of a better moniker) "wabi sabi" aesthetic of Kinfolk, Steven Alan, et al., is a way that a group of consumers can differentiate their tastes from the conspicuous consumption of the Christian Louboutin/Purse Forum/Herve Legere crowd (another frightening place to visit if you're at all concerned by the consumption in our culture), and yet still be, well, conspicuous consumers of their own sort. It's just that the signifiers of their consumption happen to be a different set of objects or design standards, perhaps with the argument thrown in that the goods are designed with a more artisanal origin. It has become a counter-current in our consumer culture for some people to look at the origins and working conditions of our goods and to make their decisions based upon that, no doubt in part influenced by the environmental and human rights movements, which is a great thing. The aesthetic argument is a separate argument, and the basic over-consumption of goods is another issue as well. Case in point: my aunt and parents gave me a lovely set of Fiesta Ware growing up. I'm not going to drop that stuff off at Goodwill just because I got tired of the bright colors, and because Steven Alan has a lot of overpriced, hand-thrown pottery that's been featured on Tomboy Style. While it's not my style exactly, the Fiesta Ware is going to last the rest of my life, and it's microwaveable and oven-safe, and extremely functional. Were it to break, I might replace it with something different, but that stuff is made out of titanium or something. At some point in time, you've just got to say to yourself, eff it, I've got bigger fish to fry than what plates or silverware I'm eating off of. If I were buying silverware for myself for the first time, I might put some thought into choosing an aesthetically pleasing purchase; but now that I've got my kitchen outfitted, that's how I roll. I look at the occasional replacement of broken items as a place to exercise my aesthetic judgement (as well as functional and budget considerations), but I don't actively seek out opportunities to buy new stuff, especially since my husband and our two dogs live in a 275 square foot micro studio. That has really helped to slow the ever-revolving churn of consumerism.

      All that being said, I always appreciate everyone's feedback on brands or items that have good quality, durability, ethical origins, or just functional beauty. I may not need a $45 candle recommendation, but I love hearing about shoes of good quality, denim that flatters, and other items that have a shorter life span and which need replacing.

      I think Lin, Amanda, Jess, Human Racing, Kali, and others should all write and edit a magazine, with exactly the content you all have been providing for your blogs. I would subscribe!

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    4. ^ + 1 what Petrichore said, I'd buy that magazine gladly. Thank you all for the spirited and thought-provoking discussion here; I have felt that same envy/dissatisfaction with the posturing on Instagram (despite being guilty of it myself) but you all have described the variations of that sentiment so well in your comments. Excellent food for thought.

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  10. Can't people just live and not give so much of a care about how they're (and their stuff is) perceived by others, it's boring and wanky.

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    1. Right on! As long as it's something you can afford, you like how it looks and it isn't a giant environmental resources hog, I seriously cannot give a shit what you choose to own.

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  11. Amanda, I pop in now and then to read your blog and many others that you have linked on your blogroll (all which I enjoy) and I am glad that you have voiced your opinions on this issue. I have to say I completely agree with you. I joined Instagram just a couple months ago, and began following accounts that suited my aesthetics (design, lifestyle, and style- wise). I grew so tired of it after I realized so many people just wear the same things, buy the same things- all this 'minimalist' shit...give me a break. The same poses, the same filters- no more Aesop lotions, no more candles, no more bare legs on a white bed spread please!

    This is rant-y, but it's 3 am so bear with me. So many people who try to emulate this lifestyle and boast at how they are 'curating' or trying to life 'spontaneously' or 'simply' are completely missing the point, and it is sad. Take the people behind Kinfolk- they are all about simple living, living in the moment...sorry, but artistically staging $20 candles on a hand-made-in-[insert exotic place] and $50 artisan cheeses on a hand- whittled wooden board and carefully photographing it is the complete OPPOSITE of living in the moment. Instagram is not about living in the moment, it's about choosing the moments, carefully editing the moments, meticulously planning for the moment to share. There is no authentic meaning behind it. Fuck the Instagram culture.

    One of my favorite bloggers recently wrote about re-affirming her love for birkenstocks. I just thought, please. Once the next trend comes, you'll say the exact. same. thing. I like the sports luxe, casual luxury style that has been recently introduced, but with so many self- proclaimed fashionistas/curators gushing at how they've always loved adidas shirts and baseball caps, and those black and white Nike Frees...there's no need to be so pretentious. Or am I the snob here?

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    1. I'm terribly guilty about all the Instagramming cliches - flowers, candles, stupid overpriced pottery and ceramics, Eames chairs and staged dinners. So I do apologize that I come across as hypocritical. I think part of me wants to show off because my insecurities tell me that my self-worth is tied to how much pretty things I own or how much fun I'm having or how well I'm eating. Also, honestly, the times when a picture gets the most likes or when I accumulate followers is when I post a staged picture of food! It's a kind of self-congratulatory way of garnering praise from random strangers.

      I guess it really irritates me on Instagram when people take something completely mundane like wearing track pants or Birkenstocks and turning it into something bigger than it is. People have been schlepping around like that for years and suddenly slapping on a few gold cuffs and an overpriced Alexander Wang t-shirt makes you a fashion statement? Um.

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  12. I don't even think I used to word "curate" while doing my bachelor's in art history (I'll take "humblebrag" for 1000, Alex). Agree with everything you said and I am ALWAYS up for a good, unstructured rant. I've never been one for interior design, but I still pull this annoying shit when shopping for my wardrobe. I'll eat off of chipped Ikea dishes, but my bags probably need to have a name attached to them. I bought New Balances, for crying out loud.

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  13. Amanda, I want to give you a million high-fives and hugs for this post. I couldn't agree with you more on all the points you've made. Your post reminded me of this op-ed I read about "hipster economics" (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/05/peril-hipster-economics-2014527105521158885.html). One of the points the author makes is that to hipsters, everything is reduced to aesthetics, including people, cultures, values, etc. One of the things that drives me crazy about the idea of "curation," the kinfolk aesthetic, etc. is that it all seems completely devoid of meaning and understanding, and most importantly, respect.

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  14. I can't agree more! I've limited my time and people I follow on IG for many of these reasons. Thankfully, 90% of the people in my life place no value on these kinds of aesthetics or values, which helps keep me grounded when the influx of images preys on my insecurity. Unfortunately, this cultural zeitgeist is indicative of what's happening in the world as the divide between rich and poor becomes wider and wider. This "curation" is a symptom of too much money and too much time, which unfortunately too many people have.

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  15. I have asked myself a lot about this whole little community of bloggers, instagrammers etc. who seem to share a very similar sense of aesthetics, up to the point where they all praise the same brands, wear the same shoes (where does that Birkenstock effect come from? We used to laugh at our elders for these shoes), light the same candles... I am myself guilty of copying some of these things, so I'm not going to point fingers and rather humbly admit that I may have been swayed into that bandwagon without fully realizing it. At first, I thought it was just because people with similar sensibilities tended to connect, hence the community. And that's probably a part of it too. But there is probably also a good dose of copying each other (not necessarily consciously. I remember one of Jess (Empty Emptor)'s posts about how seeing the same thing over and over again makes the brain like it more).

    The only thing I've been concerned about lately, is how this very high end, luxury tendency tends to overshadow the concept of simplicity and minimalism, and give a very snob stereotype to it. I have noticed lately, that when I speak or write about my simplification journey, or read about other's, more and more comments concern how it is vain, and very "first world", and very high social class, to be concerned about these things where there are very poor people around the world who can't afford the bare necessities. I'm not saying this argument isn't valid - there is most surely a very "first world", comfortable lifestyle aspect to editing a vast amount of material possessions. But this whole bandwagon of luxurious minimalist aesthetics makes more and more people link simplicity to that stereotype, where, to me, simplicity is about the opposite of all this. It's about becoming aware of bandwagons and stepping off them, it's about discovering ourselves and our actual tastes and preferences, and growing as a person. What I'm saying here, is that it's too bad that this "snob" effect may turn some people away from the idea of simplifying their life, because they'd think it is superficial and vain...

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    1. I think it's a slightly vicious circle where you tend to follow people who share the same aesthetic values as you initially but then it becomes one giant circle jerk and you all start owning the same shoes and the same clothes and shop from the same stores. On the flip side, that's how you actually meet like-minded people right? That's how you make friends when you're at an age when it's harder to actually meet people!

      I think this luxury minimalism stems from the elitist notion that once you've accumulated enough, you need to transcend into an almost Nirvana state of just owning "luxurious" items - sort of like saying, "We're better than all you plebs who shop at Zara because we're above that. I can only afford one Margiela dress but I'll just call it minimalism". Maybe I'm wrong, who knows, I'm wrong about a lot of thing anyway.

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    2. It becomes hard to disentangle liking someone else's taste/style from actively emulating it to the point of chucking out one's entire wardrobe/over-consuming clothing or household goods in an attempt to appropriate it, especially if this is a cyclical activity. It's also hard to disentangle the idea of owning a few long-lasting, quality goods from snobbery toward others who don't choose that shopping method, or who own a lot of lower-priced clothing items. I think the foundational idea that owning less clothing is better for the environment, and thereby minimizing the fiber waste one contributes to landfills, while also possibly choosing items whose construction entails paying a liveable wage, is a wonderful one. I think that, as always with our U.S. consumer culture, people and brands/companies take the idea to extremes and encourage the same mindless purchasing habits. And again the snobbery that may arise from choosing not to shop at Target, which for others is not a choice but a necessity, becomes deplorable.

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  16. Hi Amanda

    You might be interested in reading my husband's article on Japanese architecture and curation https://www.academia.edu/3610874/Control_Yourself_Lifestyle_Curation_in_the_Work_of_Sejima_and_Nishizawa

    We are living in a control society, and this myth of curation keeps us focused on accumulating and displaying little objects (the luxury bag, the luxury candle, the luxury brunch whatever) so that we're less focused on the structural forces at play in this late industrial capitalist global economy.

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    1. love this comment, it illuminates what I have been thinking, yet felt unable to express.
      I also wonder, isn't this a particularly female preoccupation? I am curious about its male equivalent - if it exists?

      Great post Amanda. I jumped off the blogging stage quite some time ago for similar reasons.

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    2. Erica, I think you have very astutely summed it up re: capitalism.

      Also, these lines from you husband's article seem appropriate, "Blankness calls for active projection, indeterminacy asks for participation...". Perhaps if we resist the draw of social media like instagram, etc. and do not consume such repetitive, and (dare I say) often vacuous images then the opportunity to engage with ourselves will emerge, a more developed "participation" if you will.

      And I say this as someone with both a blog and a pinterest page...so, certainly I don't mean to be accusatory. Perhaps more a reminder to myself as these are issues that have been on my mind even before this discussion.

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    3. Great point, Erica. If we can just keep consumers in a constant state of status anxiety, endlessly teasing out the implied meanings of consumer goods, nobody will have any energy to pay attention to more important matters.

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  17. Consider that instagram, blogs, and other forms of social media are modern takes on advertising. They are particularly insidious because they appear to come from regular people rather than the companies directly. So, I don't think folks are making money off the "curation" as much as they're making money off of the advertising. I don't care what disclaimers they post on their blogs - the people making real money off their blogs know they're in the business of advertising, and I'm willing to bet that they'd hawk products for whomever is willing to pay. But I don't hate them for it, even if they describe what they're doing in pretentious ways - they're just making a living. The people who aren't making money off of it are, in my opinion, wasting their time and wasting their lives, because, yes, there are more important things in life and bigger issues in the world. But, sharing our stuff with the world does offer a distraction, and the suggestions as to why that other comments have raised sound logical to me.

    I'm not surprised by the fact that the non-stop advertising makes you feel inadequate and insecure. I think that part of the reason why Instagram and blogs are such good vehicles for advertisements is because they can be very narrowly tailored and people self-select into following them - by the time you choose to follow someone's blog or instagram, you probably see them as a reflection of yourself or who you want to be. Plus you can theoretically build relationships with the people on the other end of the social media, which does more to cement your notion that they are like you. And then you get to the point where you're thinking that, if this is how your friends/people you see yourself in/people you want to emulate live and what they spend their money on, you should too? So, this peer-to-peer advertising can be much more effective than say, a generic tv ad geared to 25-40 year old females with 125K household income.

    And yes, you are hypocritical because your blog and your instagram do the same thing and make others feel the same way. So maybe you're less pretentious because you don't call it curating, but the show and tell sentiment, as well as the effect on others is there. I appreciated your blog post on finances back when I was in grad school because lord knows I was wondering how you could afford such nice and fancy stuff as a grad student. So hearing that you're married to a well-employed guy and you have a mom who is capable and willing to treat you to nice things made me feel a lot better because I knew I simply didn't have either of those, so I could hardly be expected to keep up. (Although the alternative idea that I invented - that you were up to your eyeballs in credit card debt - made me feel better too. (Sorry! I'm a bad person.) It's much better to know that you can afford your lifestyle.)

    But I'm not trying to rag on you! I like your blog because you grapple intelligently with the hypocrisy that many of us are guilty of. And you bring together an intelligent group of folks who talk clothing and housewares and consumption and also the pitfalls of it all, and these are all things that I like talking about, especially as a respite from my social justice-y job where I spend a lot of time dealing with the hard stuff that people face in the US

    My best advice - you can always stop. Deleting my Instagram account was incredibly liberating. It was a lot easier for me when I thought of it as advertising rather than interacting with my friends. I follow fewer blogs now, and the ones I continue to peruse are the ones that offer useful and interesting content in addition to the advertisements. It is surprising to say, but not engaging with the non-stop ads has made me so much more happy and content with my life.

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    2. Alyce, thank you for posting candid and honest comments. Sometimes one needs a good telling off to see the light.

      I'll readily admit that I'm a hypocrite for giving others a hard time when I'm equally guilty of selecting which pictures to post (instead of it being "Insta"taneous)- or trying to project some sort of online image. A lot of times though, what you see is what you get. I don't try to circumnavigate the truth about how I live. However, it has never been my intention to "show and tell" or to make anyone feel inadequate either through my blog or Instagram, especially on my blog. I feel that the blog particularly is a place where I share some anecdotes, musings and images from my life. Instagram is an extension of everything else I do when I'm not blogging. To put it crudely, it's a bit like baiting. A lot of people like peeking into people's lives, especially if it's a blog you've been reading for a while because it offers context, which in turn leads to better content engagement.

      You are right that Instagram (and blogs) is self-selecting and has potential for an aspirational lifestyle, but isn't that the case even for non-online sources of socializing? You choose your friends who share the same interests with you to some extent, you choose clothes and furniture base on what pleases you aesthetically. It doesn't have to be black and white, just because Instagram makes one feel inadequate and insecure doesn't mean you have to delete it, because you can select what you want to see and what you don't. I follow people that I actually like and know to some extent - mothers and fellow grad students (and the Vice President) whose lives I *want* to emulate because they are smart and successful and most importantly, lead an attainable lifestyle. It's the rare occasion when I veer off-course during spurts of procrastination that I find myself getting annoyed.

      As an aside, if I deleted my Instagram and/or, where else would I be able to pimp my very handsome dog?

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    3. Alyce, this comment is spot-on about peer-to-peer advertising. At the same time, I don't really have a problem with peer-to-peer recommendations or advice. This is how social bonds are created and reinforced. The thing that has changed is that many many others are eavesdropping or rubbernecking (unless your site is completely private).

      Then there's the issue of time. I have spent 5 minutes typing and revising this comment, and I don't know where I'm going anymore!

      Final thought: I'm often turned off by monetized blogs where every bit of content is blatantly connected to advertising--this applies to discrete or skillfully integrated advertising and content so they're indistinguishable. But it's important to have these conversations, to ask why it bothers me or you so much. Maybe we can even have conversations about subverting or developing alternatives to this mode of capitalism?

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    4. Alyce, I really appreciate your insight into the exact mechanisms that drive the psychology behind peer-to-peer advertising. It's conversations like this that Amanda's (and others') blog sparks that keep me returning and eagerly checking to see if anyone has posted recently.

      As far as feelings engendered by Instagram, the whole curated-life Instagram world doesn't 1.) really interest me that much, so I'm not ever on it, and 2.) make me feel insecure. I think it's important to realize that the whole social media world is a combination of people seeking to exploit it for commercial gain, and people who like messing around with a camera and taking pictures of their food. At the end of the day, it's important not to mistake it for reality, and equally important to have other ways of creating self-esteem and meaning in your life. I'm not saying that anyone here is lacking that, I'm just saying that if Instagram is making you feel wretched, explore that feeling more! What about it makes you unhappy? Are your values not congruent with your life choices? Having a life purpose or goals that put all this other stuff in perspective is really important, and make the blog posts about macaroons giggle-worthy. Maybe I'm just old, I don't know......

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    5. Insecure is not (was not) the right word. The more accurate word is dissatisfied. Other people's instagrams make me feel dissatisfied with the stuff in my life, and it also made me really really want to buy stuff like that.

      And really, my life is objectively great - I have the job that I want (doing something meaningful - helping people have access to affordable housing), My husband and I are both paid really well, with more than enough money to cover our needs, save for retirement, do fun things, etc. I can actually afford to buy the things that other people have that I want. I don't, because I don't think it is the best use of our disposable income right now - we just started working and we need to do responsible things like build up emergency savings, and try to pay for the car we'll need to get this fall in cash.

      So my situation is my own doing. Instagram was great when I was just looking, but I think it became unacceptable when I started feeling increasingly dissatisfied with my own stuff, and I started spending more time and energy resisting consumptive urges. I found it disgusting to be spending my time like this when I'm reminded daily that there are much bigger issues out there. So I deleted Instagram. There was no real value added, so it wasn't hard to let it go.

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  18. This post lays bare and raw a few conflicts that I have rather quietly struggled with over the past couple of years - co-option of "curate" and "wabi-sabi" by hobbyist Tumblrers, a faint feeling of am-I-a-bad-person in posing your dog for Instagram, obsessing over the "right" thousand dollar purse - and how travel can suddenly ask, What if none of it actually matters?

    Last year I attended a work conference where Nathan Williams detailed the business model of Kinfolk. The project seemed to be born out of frustration with conspicuous social entertaining, shallow interactions, and gratuitous social media sharing of many of outing options for 20/30-somethings, like bar-hopping - not so distant from the social anxieties at hand for me here. Their initial blog looked like this: hearblack.com. Their first issue ran 500 copies. They identified a target market and polarized their messaging to it, and they seemed to embrace that mankind might well bash their idea - but they were after people like themselves, hoping to assimilate a niche like-minded tribe of readers and contributors.

    And really, isn't that what most of this is about? Fitting in, standing out, wearing labels, normcore, seeking rarity and quality and ethics and posing a lay flat of your $65 candle and French pressed fair-trade coffee - it's about identifying with a tribe.

    If it were about pure aspiration and we could easily co-opt these photos (Tumblr, Pinterest) but Instagram is about your life, your things, your "people". The uncomfortable feeling that's added by the Internet is the transparency of so many tribes in sharp contrast at once. You want to be in the I'm-good-to-myself brunch crew, while well aware of empty-stomached, politically oppressed people around the world. How could those ever consciously coexist to you without massive feelings of inequality?

    Through the lens of product design the dilemma is instead the "Pretty Good Problem". Modern manufacturing means there's not a lot of quantifiable quality distinction between most products of a certain price point, and so companies in turn look to amassing distinguishable brand loyalists based on aesthetics and (at times disingenuous) causes for consumers to stand behind. Consumers support by buying the labels that engage in this behavior and supporting the bloggers by clicking over to read, shop, share bloggers' photos on social media. Remove yourself by refusing to support brands and blogs you feel are part of this "murketing" and you're solving a bit of the dilemma.

    And yet. Individual "curation" is natural to humans. We seek organization and aesthetics and collection because at a very primitive level they are stability. Instagram becomes a convenient way to package Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Look world! I have friends, food, achievements! And also the filter Valencia that's pleasing to your eyes which are also seeking out and rewarding things that are pleasantly arranged in natural lighting!

    On both sides it's a Pavlovian effect - you post in order to garner acceptance (else you would just leave it in your iPhone album, wouldn't you?) then you scroll through and like posts to activate this weird part of your brain that perceives liking posts as an achievement in itself. Medium post on that: bit.ly/1l59AbZ

    Although no answer, I hope this at least helps with the WTFness of it. I do find hope and a glimmer of happiness thinking that, albeit possibly misguided, popular themes of curation, minimalism, sustainability, quality, and even wabi-sabi are culturing a strain of elitism that drives more transparent and ethical working conditions, a resurgence of the makers' movement, buying fewer items of greater quality, learning to make and do on your own, recognizing the value of experience versus just products, and looking to more sustainable and longer-lasting concepts of manufacture.

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    1. Jess, I love your thoughtful approach—not letting our instinct for backlash (because hasn't much of this "movement" been co-opted by the same people who triggered it? ) disguise that there's some good to be found here. Your last paragraph in particular sums it up nicely.

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    2. Great point about the movement/co-opt relationship, L.P. Enjoying your blog now, by the way :)

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  19. Thoughtful post - and I have especially enjoyed going through the comments. Personally, I have had very little desire to shop for anything fast fashion after the rana plaza disaster but I also appreciate the fact that living in a country where fashion stores are largely absent makes it much easier to refrain from shopping. I think the pressure to keep up with the Jones's is ridiculous and social media makes it all worse. It's one of the reasons I don't instagram, I largely use facebook to email friends and twitter is strictly for work stuff. And I read fewer blogs - books are much more satisfying.

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  20. A thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Amanda. I'm glad to find out that you feel the same way I do about Kinfolk. I refuse to even page through it at the bookstore because its depiction of an aspirational lifestyle appears to be so navel-gazing and, in my opinion, lily white. But that's a conversation for another day.

    Like you I have conflicted feelings about blogging. I have no idea what my own is "about" anymore. Part of it is a contraction of free time since I now have an infant; another is that I'm bored writing about what I bought, what I'm thinking about buying, and stuff that readers might like to buy that I discovered online (all of which are much more limited these days because of the aforementioned baby). I'm actually thinking about taking a long hiatus from it, or stepping away all together. Which would be no big loss for any audience/readership I have left since I blog so intermittently right now.

    It'd be easy too because I have never, ever considered myself to be a curator in any sense of the word and have no intention of being an influencer for a mass audience. My blog is non-Google searchable and my Instagram is private. The latter especially is an accurate representation of what fills my time: 90% baby, 10% everything else. That is my (untidy) life these days.

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  21. Haha, I just had to come back and add this: I just got an email from Soho House (the boutique hotel chain that appeals enormously to upwardly mobile, hipster creative types) with the subject line "Curate your Summer". Apparently I can curate my Summer by eating eggs Benedict in London, cycling around Berlin with a picnic basket, and shopping at Steven Alan in New York, all while staying at Soho House hotels. It's like everything you talked about in your post in a nutshell! The only let down is that Soho House has Cowshed toiletry products, when obviously they should be Aesop, or at least L:A Bruket. :P

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  22. Thanks Amanda. I don't even know where to begin - there are so many well written points by both you and in the comments section. My first thought is, I like that you linked to so many reference articles in your post. When I watch a documentary or read something I want to know more and be given background info, but I rarely, if ever, see this in any fashion or design related blog. So kudos to you for doing that!

    Kinfolk: ugh. We joke that a test of friendship is whether the other person likes Kinfolk or not, ha. Whenever I see their "communal gatherings" it makes me gag. I lived in a Quaker community with 20 people for four years and we had group dinners 5 nights a week, had committees, workdays, etc - what Kinfolk does puts the spirit of "community" to shame. These events they hold, the magazine they put out, and now a clothing line (I didn't know about this, seriously!?) are all so tailored, and for lack of a better term, white. It's also frustrating to me personally as someone who has lived in a community adhering to principals of simplicity to somehow have that become a fad to be marketed. I have also wondered a lot about the marketing I've seen starting to happen for it in Japan, it makes me sad and upset. But, I'll stop there and try to get back on target...

    I have noticed, when I try to be myself online, and by be myself I mean I post pictures or talk about the things I actually love, most people don't seem interested. And I've tested this : if I post a picture of some geeky science nerd thing, I loose about 15-20 Instagram followers. I have tried this several times and the same thing always happens. However, if I post something like a scene from home or studio or something that fits the cool hip bill, I gain about 10 followers and receives lots of likes. It's so f'd up and it's obviously part of the bandwagon effect. So I spend a lot of time thinking, how can I change this? I don't have an answer yet. It becomes complicated, because I really do want to encourage people to be thoughtful consumers, but how do you begin to do that when the idea has become so trendy and at the same times making people buy more than ever?

    Thanks again Amanda! I always enjoy reading what you have to say!


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    1. Julia, I hope you'll go back to posting "geeky science nerd things". Your people will find you eventually! The shallow ones go away, as you've noticed. Let 'em go!

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    2. It's the thoughtful blog posts I enjoy reading! Keep posting away!

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  23. I actually have to disagree with you on a lot of things.

    1. The idea that you need a degree to appreciate art or its value or make a list of things you like or would recommend is very old-school. The world has moved on. Facebook hires random hackers without degrees coz of how effective they are. No degree needed for that. Thats the world we live in currently. These bloggers are effective. They seem to be able to make a list of things that people like and sell them. The world is changing.

    2. Aesop. Its actually very good product. Every time someone attacks it, i feel like someone is screaming "all blonds are dumb". Their marketing and design team has done a good job. End of the day, what ever drew your attention to the product, its a good product. They hype and pictures on instagram did go a little over board. But i wouldnt sit and crib about it.

    3. Well arranged tea cups. Yup, instagram effect. Everyone now a days is a photographer. It doesnt matter if you own a fancy pants camera anymore. And composition is what makes iphone photographs look good. It just makes me happy that so many people worry about composition of photographs, makes for better photographs. And lots of people are trying to take better photographs.

    4. Fashion bloggers promoting brands and making their millions. Their bread and butter is advertising products and marketing themselves. It is their full time job. Sitting and complaining about people being good at their jobs, a bit much dont you think?

    5. Lifestyle bloggers are promoting a life style they recommend. So do instagram posts. Why the surprise when people are showing off their homes, brunches and housewares? And its working. More people are buying the recommended goods. When you started this blog, you hopefully aimed to have some sort of influence/mark over your readers. So did they.

    6. For some reason, your travel to a third world country crept into the article. Not sure why. Will you not buy that handbag you bought, to donate to a certain charity in that country?

    7. Copycat effect. In marketing, some ideas work. And they are used over and over again. And since social media has become a tool to market yourself, securing likes and comments, well, ....

    8. Kinfolk: I used to like the articles in older issues. Not so much anymore. But they do have some well written articles. Its a magazine. They promote and sell. Why the anger? If NYMag hosts a gala inviting certain people, would you be upset?

    The world is changing !

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    1. Some good points.
      I think what many of us are feeling uncomfortable about is a perceived 'lack of substance'. Nobody is saying that substance has to be there (of course it doesn't!), but perhaps the tone of this post, and the comments beneath it are reacting to what they perceive as a negative shift within an area of interest which they previously felt (substantially!) engaged.

      I can't put my finger on what this actually is, but I have seen it occur in sub-cultures since my teens - I am 40 now. The only example I can give from personal experience might be Glastonbury festival.....back in my early to mid teens Glastonbury used to represent a sort of refuge for those if us who were drawn to a more alternative, creative kind of lifestyle. It was where the bands that didn't get into the top 40 played, and the only chance we'd get to see them. It was a delight to see so many small businesses and artists thriving there. Fast forward to the mid 90's and the entire shebang became grossly commercialized. Everything we'd held dear about it was simply washed away in a flood of mainstream, celebrity endorsed pap. But that was just our opinion, and it's true that Glastonbury's current popularity proves that mainstream pap sells. Not only music and Hunter wellies, but also fashion magazines. It's an odd one for me to look back on, because I witness the 'before'.

      Perhaps something like that is happening here, in the comments, a reaction of sorts to the 'kinfolk effect'. When aesthetics alone replace depth?

      I don't really know, and words are not my strong point! Just thoughts!

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  24. Hi Amanda,

    I enjoyed reading your post and everyone's discussion. My husband and I have had several discussions about our issues with the word curate even though we are guilty of using it ourselves. When we first opened the store I help run, it was even used in our door signage. Pretty soon after we realized how wrong it sounded. As a buyer, I have made mistakes along the way, and will probably stumble some more, but I try to select things that are beautiful, well made and sourced, and make people happy to use/wear - which is so hard given how diverse our customers are (more so in store than online). Fog Linen has actually held up pretty well for me over several years of abuse, but I'm curious to try the lines you mentioned. Anyways, you've given me much to think about, and this was a nice reminder to continue to try to be a thoughtful buyer/consumer.

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  25. Amanda, not much more to add, but I wondered about your use of the word 'contradictory', and it's harshest response: hypocritical. I actually don't think it's that simple, and we need to let ourselves off the hook for having become a writhing mass of contradictions, it's simply the state we are in, culturally speaking.
    I see it more as a sense of confusion, and you are not alone as so many of us share your concerns. It's a personal thing as well as social, a kind of malaise, so to speak.

    We are geared to view success as financial above all else. This is what we are taught from being quite small, that success lies in what we are able to obtain, amass, and show off to others (houses, cars, travel, etc), and the internet is the perfect platform, for now the saying 'all the world is a stage' has never seemed so fitting.
    And I wonder if our current discomfort is a reaction to that in some way. As we also perceive there's more to this success thing than meets the eye. It care nothing for ethics, the heart or creativity. It's about power.

    As a consumer I am perpetually confused and contradicting myself. I am painfully aware of it. I am disgusted by the cruelty and mindlessness that lies behind the production of so many of my 'precious things', especially calf skin, my crap pyjamas from Primark, my APC booties....the list goes on.

    But I still wear/utilize these items. Why? I am a mass of contradictions, and admit to my own hypocrisy. I think it's an existential problem, a glitch in our make-up. Can capitalism exist without self disgust? I'm not sure.
    But I am waffling, so shall leave it there.

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  26. By the way, Amanda, I love that you wrote this post, and the tension that you (and others) express about consumerism vs. anti-consumerism, conspicuous consumption vs. thoughtful purchases, is why I find blogs like yours, Empty Emptor, The Knife en la Aire, Out of the Bag, etc. to be way better reading than any print or online content out there. Please keep up the contrarian "rants" and outrage at the fashion industry, Instagram, you name it, because it's nice to know that there are other like-minded people out there who are great at articulating their discomfort with the consumer economy and their own aesthetic choices.

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  27. Interesting article.

    I disagree with a lot of what you're saying while still really liking what you say. Hmmm.

    First, I'm always hugely irritated by "kids these days" and "the old days where so much more "substantive"". Uh, no, no they weren't.

    Second, this idea that people who are poor just don't have time for all this stuff is odd. Certainly people with less income can't afford the same stuff as people with more income. However I know for a fact that in Russia people who were really quiet low income and not infrequently worried about food absolutely wanted all of the pretty things. And had zero angst about jumping on the bandwagon or wanting what everyone else had. Some items where so insanely popular - no way to compare to today in the U.S. where everything is much more diversified.

    Third, I can't tell from your article if you're contemptuous of people's desire to be unique and special or if you are bemoaning that no one is special and unique anymore. Both? :)

    Finally, personally I have been frustrated by my inability to find "consumeristic" minimalist blogs. I like minimalism and simplicity (not necessarily in design but in the sense of limited number of possessions etc.) but am not particularly interested in frugality. But all the detailed minimalism blogs are also all about frugality. I like nice things and expensive things and think there is value in not having a lot of stuff (for me/for the person with the minimal stuff not particularly for the world or anything and lots of people like full closets and that works for them and that's fine). But almost no one seems to blog from that perspective.

    Victoria

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  28. Hi Amanda.
    I won't go into the details of how much sleep I've lost over this post. It's something I've been noticing for a long time. We've tried hard not to be one of those shops and carry the same things everyone else is. Sometimes I feel like we're all sort of fishing in the same pond of designers. I really appreciate hearing your point of view although it was scary to hear it from a voice outside my own.

    I really appreciate your opinion on this.
    -Michele

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  29. oh, amanda. i am super glad erica linked to this blog post because it reminded me that sometimes you sneak on here and type away some deep goodness like this. i don't know where to begin, but to completely say that i am guilty of being both comfortable and uncomfortable with my consumerism. it's complicated. i would never put myself in a position to not be able to pay my credit card, but there are times when i could certainly do without. instagram and blogs totally feed the addiction, but i am mostly at fault, and i have a deep acceptance of that. shopping sometimes fills a void--a real one (i need underwear!) or a fake one (to make up for that shitty, 12+ hour day, and all the of the night shifts, and malignant co-residents, blah)--but nothing ever "makes up" for those bad days, barring the true processing of events, and spending time with the people i love. i am a very conscious consumer, but still, there is a bit of discomfort there. and i am glad you put it into words.

    i would not give up fashion as a mode of self-expression, and i will not stop supporting women designers, and i will not stop loving hand made. but, i think sometimes i could benefit from a moratorium. reflecting on what i already have and not duplicating too much, and wearing things out until they are beyond repair. that would be what getting my money's worth looks like. and that would make more sense.

    i recoil, unfollow, and reject anything that reeks of kinfolk. i feel so absent from the dialogue as a woman of color, that i simply cannot. i have bought exactly 2 kinfolk mags, and once i realized episode 1 and 2 were pretty the same, i was so turned off. having friends and eating with them and "curating" a lifestyle of simplicity that costs a lot of damn money is so...quaint? what a heap of self-absorbed garbage. i literally would not have a seat at the table at a kinfolk dinner!

    all of this makes me think of "the story of stuff". have you read it/seen the videos? worth a look.

    i do think the solution is to make sure the stuff that is in you--your makeup, your mood, your sense of self is strong and not reified by "keeping up with the joneses." we could have everything, and not find happiness in those "things". so, it's not about that. and in the end, it's just stuff. beautiful stuff that we spill chimichurri sauce on! all of this to say, i don't think we should not buy things--there is pleasure in the act, but i think the mindfulness of purchases and the motivation behind them, should sometimes be investigated. and it's not a bad idea to ask the question, "why do i feel like i need to buy this?" before the swipe of a card or handing over hard earned cash.

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  30. I'm reading your entire post as a conundrum of how the minimalist fashion movement was somehow supposed to divest us of the sins of Western consumeristic privilege but, somehow through capitalistic social media, we've just come right back around to making minimalism a hallmark of Western privilege. The truth is, no one who was in the position to make a blog with beautiful Mark II photographs of $300 dollar silk t-shirts was ever qualified to lecture anybody about the sins of capitalist consumerism. The idea that we could 'cure' ourselves of capitalistic sentiment--the kind that drove people to buy Forever21 bags--by funneling our money out into fewer, but still very expensive, things is itself a hallmark of consumerism. We have less stuff, thus, we are somehow above consumerism; because our things speak about the clarity of our minds.

    To be frank, the problem with minimalism isn't about the qualification to 'curate.' Rather, the problem with minimalism (as it exists in social media) is the fact that people subscribe to it so that they can then repackage it for consumption via social media. That is to say, people are minimalists because minimalism takes a good photo rather than because it makes a clear mind or because it is cheap and they have no money. Yet, the people who can benefit from making minimalism consumable through social media are more often than not privileged individuals in the Westernized world--people who have the time and energy to Instagram expensive stuff, to keep up with Instagram comments, and to schmooze in the Instagram and Blogosphere world.

    The issue is that people who must live with less because they have no other opportunity to have more are not equipped with the type of stuff that makes minimalism glamorous or palatable to the Instagramming crowd. The fact that people in the West are looking to recreate the minimalist life in high gloss 25megapixel photos feels like an insult because there are people who are living need-based minimalist lives but are unable to capitalize on their experiences because iPhones cost 800 dollars that they certainly don't have.

    My issue with your post is where you talk about how minimalist curators aren't fit for curation because they don't have such and such education or experience. I think that it would not be any less offensive for MOMA to put on an exhibit showing off a minimalist life than a super-privileged 30-something living in a luxury Manhattan apartment showing off a minimalist life on Instagram. I mean, after all, that's practically what MOMA is after all--a super luxury New York apartment full of stuff that's been curated by some of the most well-educated and well-to-do art historians of the Western world.

    The offense is the charade that we are somehow above consumerism and materialism because we buy less--and yet, spend more. What does that say about the truly poor twenty-something who works three jobs and who gushes over a Forever21 dress? Why should we say to that person: no, save your pennies for a Margaret Howell skirt instead of a polyester Forever21 dress that makes you feel sexy after a day preparing french fries at a fast food joint? At that point, I think, it's not snobbishness but classism.

    The anxiety, I think, with minimalism isn't really about the line between snobbishness and authenticity but classism, privilege, and buying into a new kind of commercialism that looks accessible but isn't--which is precisely what consumerism has always been about: they make it seem attainable at any price point but, if the price is too cheap, they'll judge you and shame you and tell you that you're a moral outrage.

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    1. Can you out yourself? Please send me an email - I'm really enjoying your input here and would just on a personal level, get to know you more. I think you pointed out the flaw in my argument (which was not a very good one to begin with) and surmised the entire idea I was trying to convey in a few short paragraphs. Thank you.

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  31. I completely agree with this article! About the bandwagon part/ Kinfolk in particular. I am bored to death of seeing pictures of the 'Kinfolk Table' all over Instagram in an attempt by the Instagrammers in question to try to raise themselves to a kind of cultural elite for having a copy, because if you read the reviews on Amazon it is actually meant to be a rather terrible cookbook with recipes that haven't been properly tested. People who rate it highly judge it mainly on its appearance, whereas the more in-depth reviews that actually judge the recipes rate it poorly. I think this review sums it u quite well:http://www.amazon.com/review/R2CFKCEFDVDL4Z/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1579655327&nodeID=283155&store=books
    Once again, it is more about the aesthetic and the beautiful homes of the people who are featured rather than anything of substance.

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  32. Hey Amanda, first time visiting this blog and really great stuff! I just wrote a whole thing out and blogger annoyingly ate it up. So, a summarised version because I'm too lazy to write it all out again:

    1) "Curate" has induced palm-to-forehead moments for me previously. It's probably art/design education snobbery coming out though, because really, language evolves through usage. If we view online world as another platform to present/explore ideas like an art gallery, then perhaps it is no different. Anon above said this much more eloquently though.

    2) Aesthetically, I'm not a big fan of "minimalism" (or 'normcore'?) in a wearable sense because I think only a selection of bodies can wear it and still be considered 'stylish' in fashion's current vision for that word. In a design sense though, I have respect for simplicity because it's bloody difficult to do it well! As someone who tended to focus on archetypal clothing design, jazzing things up with colour/pattern/texture, I do think sometimes it's technically impressive to create simple forms for the body.

    3) Maybe it's all an existential reaction? In a climate where some have the option of numerous potential identities, it can be overwhelming and easier to retreat to quaint familiarity – manifesting as the "kinfolk" aesthetic or perhaps even the quintessential *insert national identity* aesthetic. This is still something I'm pondering, but maybe the internet has allowed people to have a place to enact every possible version of who they are or want to be, simultaneously? I don't think the categories of identity, especially through fashion/style, are as fixed as history likes to tell me they were once. Perhaps for someone afforded the luxury of choice, that is both liberating and terribly confusing because, from what I understand, we're social creatures with a desire to belong. Who you are, want to be and methods of expressing that can be fluid and with numerous issues in the world already feeling like they're out of control, perhaps it can be easier to aesthetically retreat, so to speak?

    4) I think being aware of your potential hypocrisy is much healthier than expecting to exist as the pinnacle of perfection in all behaviours & thoughts. These days, I've been taking the view that I will inevitably change my mind because with new learning & experiences, my perception of reality will change. I don't - and probably can't - know everything and that's okay, because I'm fundamentally just a bag of chemicals, emotions & thoughts which are subject to change. I also think living something gives you a different type of understanding than observing it from afar – both are needed for a more rounded critique. In short, at least you are aware of the hypocritical elements of what you're saying, but it doesn't lessen it's value imho. (I say that as someone who is probably being hypocritical in this very comment though)

    5) I think the problem with a lot of fashion/lifestyle media is that it generally doesn't explore things in enough depth. Or maybe it explores things in a very one-dimensional type of depth? I dunno, I'm probably guilty of pretension (blaming design education again) & emulating things too, so I don't quite know what I'm getting at. But I guess I just mean that as a backlash to the frivolity that fashion media is generally known for, stuff like blogs emerged which subverted that hierarchical dynamic for a while. Then that kinda got swept into the fray and I guess now, well, if virtually we're surrounded by 'stuff' all the time maybe it loses it's meaning? Therefore, how do we implore things to have meaning and depth, which instinctually maybe we desire? Maybe it's invented depth - through editing, through emphasising tangible things we can control, for example? I'm speculating here really. Just my ten pence.

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  33. What I find more irksome is, there is now a bandwagon for all those people who didn't want to get on the first bandwagon; there is a trend for being against a "curated lifestyle" (which I think is a) ridiculous and b) unavoidable since everything we put online is chosen and therefore curated). So much so I can't hear myself think due to the amount of people shouting about how everything is a lie.

    So what if someone is making their life look perfect online? Who cares? Who cares if they want to buy whatever they want with their own money and show it off online? Does it bother you that much? If it does, don't "follow" them online. Get over it. Some people actually do, believe it or not, have wonderful lives; their apartments are all white and gorgeous; they have jobs they LOVE; they adore the person they are with, they don't fight with their family, and they have good friends. That is entirely possible and I find it strange people think otherwise.

    Seems to me the only snobs around here are the people who turn their noses up at what other people want to do because it brings them happiness or some form of joy.

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    1. Sophie, I don't think anyone here has accused anyone of not having wonderful lives or that their apartments are any less gorgeous because it's white. Also no one is saying that this isn't entirely possible, though anecdotally, the behind the scenes scenario is usually quite different. I think all we're doing is going through a discussion of why people feel the need to actually show off or what prompts one to be snob-like or feel the need to "curate". I don't "follow" people who bother me, that doesn't mean I can't criticize them constructively or voice my opinions.

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    2. Sure, you can criticize people for doing something you don't agree with.. but why? It's not harming you or bothering you or even having an impact on you at all, so let them be? You can believe the "behind the scenes" is different from the finish product but you don't know that, you're assuming. You're making the - rather jealous - assumption that anyone who takes pretty pictures of their life is lying about it, that they couldn't possibly have an amazing life, which is weird. Some people really do have good lives where everything is close to "perfect." Why look at everything in such a negative light?

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  34. ah Kinfolk...I always wondered why everyone found it so intriguing.

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  35. I'm always slightly surprised by how my tastes change when I step away from the blog/Instagram-internet. I mean, I shouldn't be surprised and the difference isn't drastic but away from the very specific aesthetic that many of the blogs I follow favour my own 'natural' (loaded word, obv) taste is more eclectic/wide ranging/inconsistent. The 'curated' (barf) internet insists on such a narrow and, as you write, unconsidered view. Anyway, thank you for taking the time to write this.

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