What is Tumblr? Besides being a highly addictive micro-blogging platform,  it was the place I did most of my blogging during the last few years. That is, until a few weeks ago. Two primary reasons why I deep-sixed my Tumblr accounts: simplistic functionality and superficiality.
Those familiar with Tumblr know the distraction of the endless expanse of images that populate the majority of these micro-blogs. Tumblr subscribes to the lowest common denominator of web log functionality to allow for users to post photos, videos, audio & text. The Tumblr interface allows users with absolutely no HTML experience and no blogging experience to post a menagerie of online content without having to really think about it. Add to the mindless uploading or reblogging of content is the liking system. If you “like” a blog post viewed somewhere in the Tumblr stream of people you are following, then you click the heart icon. The system is reciprocated by other users in a virtual validation and comparison of or by other Tumblr users. What makes this system clumsy and superficial is that there is no real communication between users. In a way, it’s like an individual person in a large airport terminal with all the televisions droning on and on. It’s an extremely lonely experience.
The “follow” feature, like Twitter, allows users to track your posts — and you may follow in return. Curious as I am, I often clicked on Tumblr profiles to find out who is following my Tumblr account. Like Twitter, a lot of my account’s followers were users seeking to promote something or looking for personal validation and/or competition by earning return follows (it is a common practice on Twitter to earn more followers in order to expand audience reach or to just boasting rights to having thousands of tweeple following your tweets). Some people prefer Tumblr because it easily integrates with social media sites  making it more of a network tool than a blogging platform. When Tumblr was first launched it was very simple to aggregate your Tumblr content to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. But now most blogging platforms allow that too. Most of the followers to my Tumblr account didn’t connect or even communicate with me. They just “like” something I post and then “follow” my Tumblr account. It’s an empty, hollow interaction if not essentially dehumanizing.
Another issue I had with Tumblr is that the platform really doesn’t work well for long-form blog entries. There are exceptions,  but on the whole, most Tumblr users are there for photos or videos or reblogging someone’s photos and videos. As someone who enjoys reading and stimulating conversation, I became very aware of how my thinking was changing as I consumed the endless Tumblr stream of images. One night I speculated that some users must spend all day on Tumblr. There is a schedule feature on Tumblr that allows users to place posts in a queue to be published later, but the time investment to post photos seems vapid. Occasionally, I’d come across an intelligent quote or text-post and “like” it or even “reblog” it. I discovered, to my embarrassment, that not all quotes I reblogged or liked were accurate and stopped the practice.
Increasingly, I was disturbed that the lack of exchange of ideas was altering the way I think as I succumbed to an avalanche of images falling from the blue Tumblr interface screen. One blogger noted that someone said Tumblr is an intellectual version of Twitter,  and further noted correctly that most Tumblr users post photos. How is that intellectual? I must confess, when I began to use Tumblr as a blogging platform I posted a lot of text pieces. It was an easy platform to post my writings, art work and photography. I liked the ease that it offered. But I got caught in the cycle of seeking validation of posting content simply to earn “likes” from “followers.” So, like an addict, I’d post more content — images that I didn’t create, but I liked (and sometimes “liked”) or inspired or informed me. But there was little if any engagement with other Tumblr users. Facebook and Twitter offered more discussion and conversation than Tumblr. It felt like a completely self-centered arena that offered nothing but consumption of content with no way to seek the best in others. I was not growing or learning from my Tumblr experience. I wasn’t meeting new people and exchanging ideas.
For me, quitting Tumblr comes down to this. An online community cannot grow and flourish if the lowest common denominator is a micro-blogging platform for web-illiterate users who reblog each others photos with silent alacrity.
NOTES:  Not that you need to be introduced to the crack cocaine of blogging — Smashing Magazine provides A Complete Guide To Tumblr  Read Compete’s report “Tumblr vs. WordPress vs. Blogger: Fight!” where it states that Tumblr functions more like a social network. . .” and “reduces barriers to publishing content .”  Longreads collects long-form online content from various publications  Olsen Jay Nelson
i’m with you, Matt. i think the lack of real interaction is too safe, and results in virtual babysitting for the millions of users that only see interaction and information exchange in terms of reblogs and likes. i like the public facing blog that tumblr provides and my own thoughts and expressions find an easy outlet with tumblr. i’ve actually found enough people with similar interests and posts that make tumblr worthwhile for me. my synopsis of the platform as a whole though would lean towards idiocy – i think the lowest common denominator discourages thinking critically and the lack of personal interaction makes anonymity a personality trait.
The lowest common denominator and how it relates to the lack of thinking critically disturbs me the most. Maybe I’m not a typical Tumblr user. I don’t like the way the Tumblr experience changed the way I think about things or engage with people online. I remember nights where I might spend an hour on Tumblr, but ask me what I learned and I couldn’t say. When I started blogging years ago, I used the Blogger platform. It seems rather primitive now, but at the time it worked well and connected me with writers and art directors around the world. One blogger contacted me when traveling through the area and wanted to know where to eat and what to see in Asheville. Tumblr never really offered that connection to people in real life. In a way, Tumblr, for me, was like online bulimia. I’d consume volumes of content and then purge everything leaving me with a hollow feeling. This is one of the reasons why I don’t own a television. The constant bombardment of audio & visual content overwhelms the senses and ruins attention span. Among other things. I’ve recently considered getting rid of the radio for the same reason. Maybe blogging as a whole has changed due to social media and other changes in the online culture. Maybe I’m slowing transforming into a Luddite.
I, for one, was glad to see you return to a “regular” blogging site. I look forward to more long-form posts. 🙂
Thanks Carla! There are so many reasons why I took a hiatus from “regular” blogging, as you put it. Part of the reason were several professional challenges. I had taken a break from long-form posts due to long hours launching a successful podcast series with nearly a millions downloads only to be pushed to the background when the company leader moved the programming to radio syndication. Another part of the hiatus was due to advice I received from a poet/writer/mentor. He suggested I not share too much online because it would distract from the books I’m working on as well as discourage publishers from publishing material that was already posted online. So, I hope to post more long-form pieces regularly… at least once a week.
Matt, you have at least offered me the opportunity to revisit my WordPress–which I had more or less abandoned back in 2010. (I’d practically forgotten I even had it, because I was getting no response from it). However a very good point in your response to Carla is that all this online stuff does tend to distract one from books that are actually being worked on. This is one reason I’ve been more or less silent on the web for the past month–busy working, trying to make the best of the latest project. The more of that I can do the better.
Of course now I’m at the point of finishing up pencils on the latest book, moving on to inks, letters, and (perhaps unfortunately) promotion. So I’ll probably have to begin cranking up the social media thing again. Not something I really enjoy, but if it can help to land the new project a publisher or movie option, then I guess I need to get at it.
For now, I’ve got more pages to draw and some to correct. So I’d better get to that. But I think it’s worth considering: How much of this is actually a distraction from actual work? With that axiom applied we’ll all do a lot better.
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