I’ve been using Tumblr a lot lately – or, at least, more than I have have before. 1 It’s been pleasant, and kind of weird, and as solipsist as it is I figure it’s worth gathering my thoughts about a random internet thing that I spend a couple hours a week using.
To frame this, I want to pull in a quote from that teenpiece on social media 2:
Tumblr is where you are your true self and surround yourself (through who you follow) with people who have similar interests. It’s often seen as a “judgment-free zone” where, due to the lack of identity on the site, you can really be who you want to be. The only Tumblr URLs I know of people in real life are my close friends and vice versa.
I think a big part of this is true, in that the social graph of Tumblr doesn’t really match up with anything else: at this point, my Facebook and Twitter graphs overlap pretty heavily: the Twitter side of things has a lot more technical and non-personal stuff, which makes sense, but most of my interactions there are with people who I’m friends with on Facebook (and, you know, in real life). Tumblr, on the other hand, is a whole different deal: I think I’m Tumblr friends with like three people I know in real life.
Instead, I follow usernames like steelbison and deathbyelocution and keepcalmandcarryon and onceuponawildflower and takemetomountains – things that seem more like xanga or AIM usernames than anything more modern3. My feed is mainly pictures of cities I want to visit, and cool interior design shit, and the tamer side of cyber punk: lots of aesthetics that I enjoy but don’t particularly feel like broadcasting to the wider world.
Discovery and comfort
I don’t know if it’s due to the aforementioned wonky social graph or (more likely) the general network effects of Tumblr, but my tiny little niche of the Tumblrscape is completely separate from everything else. Twitter has Trending Topics, and Facebook has their ‘trending’ tab as well, but Tumblr just has my followers (and some interstitial ads.)
And unlike Twitter – where I follow sports people, and tech people, and Seattle people, and news agencies – Tumblr I just follow aspirational shit and people who have the same taste in interior design as I do.
On one hand, this is comforting: I don’t have to deal with a bunch of different contexts, and the site very much feels like a place I can escape to without caring about other ‘real life’ stuff. This definitely goes back to the true self stuff, though perhaps in less earnest terms.
On the other hand, I think I’ve seen the same picture of pastel macaroons a half-dozen times in the past two months, and seeing pictures of New York at dusk has pretty steep diminishing returns. Content gets stale: closed circuit graphs means that content is regurgitated, and there have been a number of times where I’ve had to catch myself before reblogging some picture of a scone being dipped into a cup of coffee because I reblogged it back in December.
If anything, I’m not sure Tumblr needs an explicit list of people to follow: I could see a more amorphous solution a couple years out, where your feed is generated based on the people who you reblog (and the people they reblog, and etc. etc.). It seems like an elegant iteration on their current solution of ‘recommended blogs’, which are likely populated the same way.
Tumblr, more than any other network I’ve used, seems optimized for consumption rather than production.
You see things, and your default options are to reply to them or repost them. The sign of a good post is how many times other people like it or repost it. The experience of uploading an image is so much clunkier than finding one you like and reposting it. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I’m sitting on a blog with around four hundred posts and I think only two dozen are of stuff I made or found myself.
Ultimately, this is nice for the way I use it – I open my laptop after I get home from work and just zone out, browse through a couple dozen 4 photos of pretty European cities, and macaroons, and Cowboy Bebop screen caps, and F. Scott Fitzgerald quotes printed in Courier New, and apartments with exposed brick and floor-to-ceiling views of too-good-to-be-true skylines. This makes me happy and it’s not as if I spend 5.30 to 6.00pm doing anything particularly productive anyway.
But I think that there’s an inherent irony (or tragedy, depending on how seriously you take the time you spend on the internet) in hitting reblog over the word Collect Moments Not Things in Helvetica, superimposed over a sepia picture of the Adirondacks which you’ll probably never visit.
So I’ll continue to use Tumblr as long as it keeps scratching my particular itch, and maybe somewhere along the way I’ll teach myself not to fawn over so many pictures of sleepy British streets.
(Oh, and you should totally follow me on Tumblr.)