You might take for granted the term “curiosity” after all it is a banal word that we say all the time. However, have you ever stopped to think what exactly it means? Did you know that once upon a time curiosity shaped discourse, literature, news, and an entire society? Curiosity has also played a role in our well-being and happiness! What about sayings such as “the curiosity killed a cat”?
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, in Europe, curiosity was fashionable and people mentioned it endless much more than today. It was claimed to have unprecedented importance of being even the antecedent to all action or knowledge acquisition. That must be one of the reasons NASA named its car-sized robotic rover that explores Mars “Curiosity” because the term fundamentally evokes the origin of science. Also, the Blanton Museum of Art of The University of Texas at Austin launched a #curiositywelcome guerilla marketing campaign for brand awareness, and was quite successful at gaining followers on social media. Others examples of how the discourse of curiosity resonates today, especially in Media, are sites such as: curiosity.com and curiosidades.com.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, curiosity was not used simply as a word but as a whole culture. Curiosity meant something like ‘inquisitiveness’ or ‘desire for knowledge’. However, being derived from the Latin etymon cura (care, diligence, anxiety, fastidiousness), the word sometimes had anything to do with desire for knowledge. Also, ‘curiosity’ could denote or connote a ‘desire to do or discover things that go beyond one’s allotted role in life. There is a negative tone attributed to curiosity that, according to several scholars, began in the Bible, symbolized by the forbidden apple, the “fruit of knowledge”.
Even today, there remains a discrepancy of moral evaluation between what many people might say about curiosity. Some might find it negative by confusing it with gossip. The negative historical tone of curiosity generated the saying “the curiosity killed a cat”. Such tone started being used in literature as way to shape narrative. Many authors used the bad male examples of curiosity in their narratives by creating famous characters: Doctor Faust, Oedipus, Orpheus (he lost Eurydice to Hades by glancing back at her). Albert Camus and many other writers only had to mention a certain name – “such as Icarus- for a particular narrative of curiosity to be evoked in the minds of many readers or listeners.”
On the other hand, recent research has already proved that one of the ingredients to achieve happiness in life is to be curious about the world around you. “Paul Silvia, a social psychologist, for example, doubts that curiosity kills too many cats.” In a psychology study published in 2007, Todd Kashdan and Michael Steger found that participants monitored their own daily activities, as well as they felt in a diary, those who frequently felt curious on a given day also experienced the most satisfaction with their life. Curiosity is here highly related with growth and expansion, with novelty and challenging situations. For instance, imagine now a restaurant you go often but not too often; if you are curious enough you might try a new dish in this restaurant instead of opting for familiarity by choosing the same dish as usual. Kashan explains that if you like the dish is great, if you don’t, you have a story you can use to connect with people. Researchers have found that curious people are rewarded by an “internal growth that takes places regardless the outcome.”
I have found in my own research in Austin, Texas, that people are barely curious about their surroundings, taking their locality for granted and not caring about places, history, architecture, stories, or even local news. I have found that technologies such as smartphones are not enough to trigger this curiosity, and this is becoming a sort of research challenging. Have you thought of yourself? Do you consider yourself curious?
One of my hypotheses for this lack of curiosity is that people are increasingly over stimulated in urban spaces due to aggressive advertising, overload of information caused by Internet, and mainly because of the busy lifestyle of modern society. However, even if you do not consider yourself curious, psychologists argue that curiosity can be cultivated. So next time, somebody invite you to dance something exotic like Kizomba or Kuduro, or even to try a hamburger made of snake do not think twice. Go for it, without fear, be curious, be happy!
If after reading this, you want to know how I applied curiosity into Locative Media and also to find the references click here