A notch above a monkey » On Tumblr

On Tumblr

Warning: this whole post is not much else than a series of speculations and amateur psychoanalysis. If you can’t find fun in that, well, then start reading something else.

I started using IRC almost two decades ago, soon after I came on Internet. I still do, but it’s now a very different experience mainly because today almost everyone is connected. When everyone is around, you tend to hang out largely with people you already know. Back then I chatted with faceless handles and what I found especially interesting were strong feelings and a sense of familiarity that developed between people who would never meet.

I thought of this recently again while discussing appeal of Tumblr and a neologism that I like — tumblrcrush. It wasn’t explained, but I understand it as having a crush like feeling provoked by a Tumblr blog.

I never heard of something like that related to WordPress although I am sure it happens. But I feel safe in hypothesizing that such visceral affection for a blog and by proxy for its creator happens more often on Tumblr.

Now, this is surprising on surface because so many Tumblr blogs look like nothing more than collages of other people’s stuff whereas old school blogs often have more what is disgustingly called original content and are more verbose — just like this one. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect that writing at length about things that interest me would reveal more about who I am then things I collect. After all I am more likely to divulge facts about me through my own writing than through other people’s work.

However when I write, it’s not really me who does it. Writing, even when trying to avoid self-censorship (unsuccessfully), engages a different part of a brain than responding to an image or a passage of text. I write so I can think, but even when not, I don’t just type a Joyce-like stream of consciousness. I form sentences I would prefer to utter, but usually don’t.

The genius of Tumblr (even with some serious interface screw-ups) is that it makes it easy to republish found stuff and really inviting to do it. Those pieces shared and reshared are revealing exactly because they were created by others. They never had time to be distilled and redacted closer to our self-image because they weren’t selected to represent us. Instead they are mostly curated by finder’s emotional response and its those emotions, part of finder’s subconscious (soul), that sometimes touches us.

Because what does it really mean to know someone? We may admire intellect, but we relate to the person. We don’t know a person until we empathize with her and those small shared bits are conduits for feelings, not information.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t write long, elaborate posts on Tumblr. Many indeed do. Just like many use WordPress to post stuff they found in some web back-alley. But it is Tumblr’s whole fun (and) social experience — unlike a serious, CMS-like sterility of WordPress — that nudges you into a different behavior. In creating we are guided by our tools with what they suggest, not what they make possible.

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