Curious Trends

25/07/2010

The curiosity factor

Be curious...

As a naturally curious person, I was one of the first to spot the new trend of curiousness, let’s call it the curiosity factor.

Everyone is born curious, but how we learn has hitherto been largely dictated by our location in the world, our social background, family circumstances and our education. In recent years, however, global access to the Internet has opened up the whole world, together with its huge wealth of information and local knowledge, to people from all walks of life, right across our planet.


In the new age of digital media and mass information, we’re all keen to gather knowledge, sometimes without giving ourselves time to step back and consider our learning in context. In the past, education involved memorizing facts by rote, but the availability of information on just about everything via the Internet has reduced the requirement for this type of mind training. Learning, on the other hand, is a process that combines knowledge with first hand experience – and only happens slowly, building up to an accumulated bank of wisdom and understanding over a period of time.


Informed opinion is worth more than information gathered second hand from the Internet, or mainstream media, like the printed press or TV news. That’s why our curiosity to learn about everything around us, from natural history and geography to politics, philosophy, psychology, literature and the arts is now also being served by the likes of specialist salons, book clubs, poetry groups, forums of ideas, and cultural shindigs like the Port Eliot Festival.

Back in the 17th century, travelling for the sake of curiosity and learning became known as the Grand Tour. Travel was thought to be essential for developing the mind and expanding ones knowledge of the world - and the Grand Tour became the preserve of a wealthy, and predominantly male, educated elite. Now there’s a new kind of ‘grand tour of information’ that’s available from a growing band of ‘exclusive’ clubs for the intellectually curious – each with its own dedicated website.

Perhaps as a backlash against our celebrity obsessed culture, and the disposable materialism of our modern day lives, we’ve finally started searching for more meaningful time-fillers than plastic surgery and retail therapy?

For ShopCurious, I invented my own term to describe the type of people who are enlightened and open to learning: I call them the Curious Cognoscenti, people who’ve got ‘style with brains’. The word ‘curious’ has certainly become curiously fascinating to us of late, and is now considered to be one of the most powerful marketing tools in efforts to attract the right type of audience to media and events based organizations of intellectual stature. BBC Radio 4 declares itself to be a radio station ‘for curious minds’ and National Geographic Channel’s bold strapline reads ‘Live Curious’, claiming it is “about exploration, pioneering and questioning” because “Everything deserves a why.” The Wellcome Collection’s London based gallery of medical curiosities and artworks says it is for ‘explorers of the human condition’ and has brands itself as ‘A free destination for the incurably curious’ – though only paid membership of the Club enables exclusive access to the members’ club room and special private view events.

Some ideas based organizations have come from the political arena, like the Institute of Ideas, which holds an annual Battle for Ideas conference and The Stone Club, which hosts regular social, political and media themed debates where ‘people of influence’ discuss important issues of the day. Educational establishments have also welcomed the opportunity to trade on their academic reputations: This year’s Cambridge Festival of Ideas even has a Family Day, which, according to CAM Magazine is “when intellectuals of all ages will be invited to take part in events across Cambridge that organizers hope will stimulate and surprise.”

Then there are new style intellectual communities, like TED, whose website allows access to ‘riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world’. Despite its outward inclusiveness, admission to conferences held by the pre-eminent group of thinkers and speakers costs in the region of $5000 a head. I haven’t attended one of these events, which, to me, smack somewhat of Tony Robbins style personal development courses.

The School of Life sounds even more cultish, offering ‘ideas to live by’, including ‘Sunday sermons’ for those who are ‘curious about what values we should live by today’ Speakers have included Raymond Tallis on Wonder and Grayson Perry on Kinky Sex. Other disciplines on offer include ‘bibliotherapy’ and psychotherapy - and there are also regular ‘conversation dinners’. The school offers ‘a space for you to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences with other curious, open-minded individuals’ at evening classes on a range of slow living/self-help style topics like ‘how necessary is a relationship’, ‘how to be cool’ and ‘how to face death’, alongside a talk on the mysterious art of ‘mindfulness’.

My ongoing journey of self-discovery hasn’t yet taken me to the School of Life either, though I recently attended one of the Intelligence Squared debates. I was curious to hear the speakers for and against the motion ‘fashion maketh woman’, one of whom was (inevitably) the arty curiosity Grayson Perry, currently on a curious grand tour of his own, who added his own touch of wit and originality to the occasion.

To my mind, being curious is inextricably linked to ones interests, aims and objectives in life. There’s something odd about accumulating knowledge purely for the sake of curiosity: A regular brain booster can be energizing and inspiring, but where’s the depth and level of expertise that might be developed, say, through traditional education, combined with experiential research?

Anyway, once you’ve satisfied your curiosity and formed opinions on a whole range of topics, what’s next? Perhaps you’ll decide to create your own manifesto, expressing the key tenets of your personal belief system, with a view to influencing others – like grand dame of fashion Vivienne Westwood’s Active Resistance manifesto.

Or you could always become a curiosity yourself.

Any other ideas are curiously welcome.
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