Ancient cultures may have their shamans, but modern culture has some unusual roles emerging as well. The cultural curator role has expanded enormously, with both professional and amateur versions. People with Pinterest boards, many blogs and blog-like content sites are not so much new content as they are curated content -- the curator shares their taste in something, sifting and sorting what they find into consumable information bits for others.
There are certainly paid cultural curators -- they hang out in journalism in the fashion pages, they may be professional speakers, or even celebrities in their own right. (An example isn't popping into mind right now, but perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow would be pretty close. Although she was a celebrity for skills other than her opinions about taste.)
A role that is not much talked about is the explainer. Explainers are not experts in the fields they explain, so much as they are interpreters of difficult material that the rest of us can then digest. Malcolm Gladwell is the standard carrier for this breed. I encountered a delightful example of explaining in James Gleick's blog, Around.com.
To see what I mean about being a cultural explainer, you have only to read the post where he comments on the value of the recently sold copy of Magna Carta, which traded hands at over 23 million dollars. This is a lovely bit of explaining of why historical artifacts have become so valuable in an age of ubiquitous information.
But the growth in the ranks of the superrich does not explain the hypertrophy in magical value. Just when digital reproduction makes it possible to create a "Rembrandt" good enough to fool the eye, the "real" Rembrandt becomes more expensive than ever. Why? Because the same free flow that makes information cheap and reproducible helps us treasure the sight of information that is not. A story gains power from its attachment, however tenuous, to a physical object. The object gains power from the story. The abstract version may flash by on a screen, but the worn parchment and the fading ink make us pause. The extreme of scarcity is intensified by the extreme of ubiquity.
It's also refreshing to find anyone producing a blog for the joy of it, and not obviously selling anything. The vast expansion of the flow of information has been accompanied by a general degradation of the quality of any one piece of information -- we are swimming in a sea of meaningless communications much of the time.
One of the challenges of our society today, is that these important roles of curation and explaining are rather challenging ways to make a living. I would argue that we need these people. Malcolm Gladwell may be doing well enough (perhaps someone could check in on that?) but most of these curators and explainers are mere fodder for the Google machine.