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It’s not enough to think about the experience you’re creating for customers online. It’s equally important to manage the online world’s impact on you. As much as you produce and contribute, you should likewise filter and prune what passes before your eyes.

The latest buzzword in business is curation. Creating a highly-tuned experience for your customers whether they come to your website, open your email or interact with you on social media. It’s not entirely new, of course. Curation is just the next iteration of personalization that started with the My-phase a few years back. The big difference is that whereas we each used to customize our own experiences on search engines or online bookstores, today we’re encouraged to select, highlight and distribute customized content for our friends and clients.

It’s good advice, actually, as becoming a good curator is an excellent way to contribute to people we value.

But while we’re being encouraged to curate experiences for everyone else, it’s important to keep curating our own online experiences. The My-phase of the web was a necessary stage of our engagement with websites because the exponentially increasing amount of content they generated was overwhelming us. If you didn’t create a My Yahoo or My Google News, you ran the risk of inundation, which meant good information fell to the level of noise. And that was back when the major contributors of content were few: a couple of major websites and a few Nigerian spammers.

Today, billions of people contribute content that ceaselessly passes before our eyes.

As Twitter has made publishing your every thought frictionless, we’ve naturally become exposed to more and more thoughts: many we’d have happily lived our entire lives without. After Facebook absorbed what we once needed to visit many sites to see – photos, links to web pages, jokes, polls and videos – we are increasingly exposed to more of these media in a single channel. As organic groups spring up in discussion areas and hashtag chats, we find ourselves thrust into 100-plus comment threads reminiscent of Internet 1.0 discussion boards, but more insistent on keeping us in the banter with real-time notifications.

It’s as simple, wonderful, but potentially overwhelming as getting 429 birthday wishes, where once we’d have received a few cards or emails. Because our sense of propriety hasn’t changed as fast as the web, our wish to thank everyone takes us down the strange path of social inundation.

Which leads us back to the need to curate our inputs more than ever. It’s not quite a pull-back, but it’s definitely a hold-on moment for social media, and perhaps the web as a whole. It’s yet to be seen whether the human nervous system can actually handle the vast number of inputs – blips, beeps, vibrations – as we’re able to create. We simply don’t know if this direction in communication – language, actually – is sustainable, or even valuable. It all might end up a grand experimental cul-de-sac, like cuneiform or Esperanto or 45-records. Clearly, much of what is being generated is valuable; equally clear is the amount that is not.

The challenge is knowing with whom and what to allocate your time, focus, energy, since the minutes in a day have remained the same.

It’s all quite natural, when you think about it. Selection has always been a critical skill for navigating the world. Knowing which comments to let pass without retort from a friend at a cocktail party isn’t much different than knowing with postings to overlook from that friend online. The cues are different, since we lose the physical and non-verbal parts of social interactions when we boil our conversations down to texts, tweets and tags. So it’s a little harder, perhaps, but a learnable skill, nonetheless. Deciding which discussions to skip, which discussion groups to join (or leave) or even when it might be time to deactivate that extra account (must we appear in every social network?).

So it’s not so surprising, even perhaps overdue, to see people talking about cutting their number of Facebook friends in half, just as they once unsubscribed from the torrent of email newsletters they once received. Even the social networks understand the need to maintain some control – sanity? – on their platforms. The latest features let us manage the amount and type of updates we see from people, and to hide some people’s content entirely, even if we don’t wish to completely break off our connection. Curation of our own experience seems far more important than the number of friends and followers, because the conversation goes both ways. Our desire to influence everyone might need to give way to influence our important someones, and to equally limit who influences us. 

Some people are taking it even farther. We’ve limited how frequently our apps check for updates on our smartphones – even email can wait a whole fifteen minutes – so that we’re simply able to walk two feet without a blinking or beeping demand for our attention. It doesn’t make us Luddites. It does make us slightly more focused. It simply reduces the chances we’ll get run over by a bus, because we’re looking up while we’re crossing the street. Curation is good, but it’s also hard. Deciding how to spend your time online, and with whom to spend it, means making choices. And social media isn’t geared towards choices: it’s a fire hose, not a straw, by nature. It’s up to us to restrict, control, curate the flow. To make something good out of it. To protect ourselves from noise.

It’s will require we master a new skill: Choice. Which is increasingly hard to do, especially when the blinking and beeping keeps insisting that someone, somewhere, wants our attention right now. And now. And now, now, now, now…….