I never entirely bought into the idea of blog years, but I’m not sure what else explains the nostalgia I feel for the pre-Tumblr era. At the risk of sounding as if I am pining for some discursive never-never land, like I was some Frankfurt School refugee who wound up beached on a Great Lake, the internets were smarter before Tumblr:
1) Reblogging — The ease of reblogging creates an echo chamber effect, and works to ossify conventional wisdom when it is still far more convention than wisdom. Rather than quoting and responding, it makes it possible to participate in the conversation in the same way that snapping indicates agreement among some sororities.The reblog without comment is a discursive action stripped of content, kind of like poking in Facebook.
2) The feed — unlike Bloglines or Google Reader, it all comes at you in a single torrent. I follow about 30 people, some of whom are rarely active, but returning to the computer after even a few hours feels like shoveling the driveway during a blizzard. At the same time, it is rewarding, as there is almost always something, when after five minutes of actual work at your computer, you crave distraction. It may be a dozen pictures of Strawberry Switchblade, scanned from mid 1980s issues of The Face or NME, posted by someone you keep meaning to unfollow, but there is almost always something. With regular RSS feeds, there is at least the ability to opt to look at what you want, when you want, but still keep track. It may be me, but Tumblr makes me feel more like a rat hitting that little bar over and over than the rest of the internet does.
3) Follow/unfollow — the social networking aspect always seemed like a distraction, and something that offered the limitations of both RSS feeds and social network, with few of the rewards of either.
So I plan to keep posting now and again, as it’s convenient for things that don’t really make sense on the blog, but I plan to unfollow on Tumblr, and then add some back as RSS feeds.
I imagine none of this is of much interest, but I’m wondering if I’m alone in feeling this way.
I think for me, the most salient of these is #2, because, well, sometimes you really do feel like a rat hitting reload over and over. Or like a heroin addict. Either way, it’s sort of a mindless activity, with little differentiation or little selectivity. You keep hitting reload or the back button because you don’t want to miss anything. Even though mostly, even if you don’t, you still aren’t miss anything.
The first point, though, I feel like sometimes there is no need to comment. For instance, reblogging a lolcat. Do you really need to put a comment on a lolcat? Does it need an endless series of lols? Most of the stuff on tumblr (or at least on my tumblr dashboard) is stuff that doesn’t warrant comment. Some of the best things on tumblr speak for themselves, because they are simple, straight forward, and/or say something you agree with or find interesting. Commenting just to say you had an opinion doesn’t necessarily make you smarter.
I also kind of take issue with the fact that it is implied that if a sorority does it, then it must be stupid. As if only vacant, mindless sheep (as sorority girls invariably must be) would ever submit an opinion without comment. Even though every election year, millions of people turn out to the polls to do just that. Sometimes submitting one’s opinion without comment, when a comment is redundant or unnecessary, is far more efficient and useful than talking ad infinitum about how you feel about something — even if it’s already been said. In a sorority, where you could easily have 100-200 chatty girls in the same room together who all love to give their opinions, snapping rather than commenting is a way to move quickly and efficiently through a process — not simply brainlessly following along with the masses.
On the third point, I like the social networking aspect. Maybe this just has to do with quality of content that I both post and follow, but I find that I’ve had some really good discussion and debate on tumblr that I haven’t gotten elsewhere on other blogs. Perhaps it’s the immediacy of the form, and the way anything you post becomes instantly visible to a large number of others.
I think with tumblr, smart content and smart commentary are not only possible, but highly likely if you use your tumblr correctly. As I’ve stated elsewhere, tumblr is all about building your own brand. The best tumblrs, like the best blogs, pick a certain kind or quality of content, set a tone for discussion, and consistently maintain that level in order to attract and maintain audience. Depending on how high brow or how high quality or how intelligent your discourse tends to be, it’s been my experience that you generally find the same quality of follower. This isn’t universally true, but…I think tumblr can be an intelligent medium if you use it intelligently. If you treat tumblr like a place to post junk, to read junk, and to waste time, your experience with tumblr will reflect that.
I think that Robot-Heart underscores her own point deftly by writing a thoughtful reblog/response. On some of the issues, we’ll have to agree to disagree, and if Tumblr works for R-H, bully. I’d continue to argue that the architecture of Tumblr encourages a different kind of conversation than traditional blogs, one that, in my experience, tends to be less substantive, generally speaking, than traditional blogs. But it does depend on what you read, to be sure. And finally, I did not mean to equate sorority w/ stupid — I know far too many current/former sorority folk to do that — but rather, that particular aspect of the culture, with its tendency towards manufacturing concensus, seems foolish. But I appreciate the dialogue, which will make a liar out of me as I start following more, rather than fewer, Tumblrs.