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Tumblr and Its Role in Our Generation’s Online Upbringing

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In a fast paced, ever changing technological world, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish between our identity online and offline. Despite this, creating or establishing an identity online could help people escape a part of themselves they don’t appreciate or particularly favor in the presence of others. Identity crises are notable stages of a rising adolescent, so often these outlets can help them discover their interests and teach them to express themselves. Speaking from an identity crisis-related experience, Tumblr has played a massive role in my online upbringing, and has opened me up to many walks of life and thoughts. It lets you create your own content and interact with other like minded individuals in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. Tumblr has and has had the capacity to connect individuals as an instrument of control for the past decade, and although the hype is slowing down, it is worthy to show the world how crucial this microblogging platform has been to our generation in terms of empowerment and freedom.

Tumblr, a popular blogging platform, was founded in 2007 by David Karp. This service allows online users to post short blog forms of multimedia, follow other blogs, and engage in threads with others as well. Blog hosting websites can date back to the late 90’s, however since then, they have matured considerably, along with blogging itself. What makes and made Tumblr different than other platforms is that it triggered a sudden boost in confessionals and self published pieces. In fact, it was bought by Yahoo in 2013, in an attempt to revamp the concept of blogging and to present it as a simple and carefree activity. The first group of popular blogging softwares including Blogger, EditThisPage, and LiveJournal made it relatively easy to blog – providing a box where a text could be typed or pasted, along with a “post” button somewhere nearby it to publish it to the public or private audience of the sender. The second batch of blogging platforms like WordPress aided in mostly building company websites, product catalogues, and could be used on both your own hardware or leased machines. “Tumblelogs” first emerged in 2005 and focussed on quickly and swiftly posting of videos, photos, and text snippets rather than lengthy prose (The Economist Newspaper, 2013) . When Karp founded Tumblr in 2007, it quickly dominated this field and other softwares within it. According to Tumblr itself, there are currently 488.8 million tumblr blogs. More than 17 million posts have been posted today. Per second, as reported by Tech Jury, more 1,600 posts are posted on Tumblr – said time frame is enough for more than 8,000 tweets, more than 4000 skype calls, and almost 1000 instagram posts to be uploaded and shared. It is additionally available in 18 different languages, and is the 51st most visited website in the whole world. This magnitude of activity easily makes Tumblr alluring to big time Yahoo trying to make money by advertising on Tumblr’s pages.

To an ordinary internet user, Tumblr looks like any journaling website on the web. However, once one registers for an account, they uncover a whole blogging “ecosystem” as coined by the Economist. Entries like photos, texts, and videos can be liked, reblogged, and Tumblr blogs can be followed. Posts gaining popularity can accumulate thousands to tens of thousands of “notes”, which are short comments, reblogs, and likes. An original post on Tumblr, meaning one uploaded by a user instead of reblogged, is reblogged approximately nine times – translating to only 10% of the blog content being original, with the majority being reblogs posted by other users. What’s unique about Tumblr is that real names aren’t needed; a simple email address suffices. Users of the site can present themselves through different personalities through many different blogs if they wanted to. Additionally, one can create their own theme, add music, use another preset theme, or edit their own through the html bar provided when editing their page. There are a plethora of websites that also provide tutorials on how to insert html or what specific codes to input in order to produce a certain effect or feature. This allows you to personalize everything to your heart’s content, thus increasing your motivation to spend time working on it and perfecting it. This asset and attractive feature Tumblr harnesses allows and provides space for thinking, exploring, and inspiration, nonetheless. It can also be an easy way to escape any trauma or feed the need to vent to other tumblr users asking for their input on topics of your choice. Ultimately, it is the perfect platform to find yourself, others, and ideas as well. As The Economist puts it, “Tumblr is, in a way, the anti- Facebook – a social network where you do not have to be friends with your mother.”

Oftenly anonymous, more and more blog pages are being created every day. More and more people are feeling the need to be free, play, and express themselves; thus, Tumblr was and is their playground. This space to experiment “spawned a culture that existed, initially, only on Tumblr” according to Paper Magazine. Tumblr was made to feel like a club, and thrives on the little communities it creates – it laughed at the non members and everything that happened on the inside made those using the website feel like a part of something miraculous. It pushed many to find interest in social justice and politics, leading conversations to happen on the more obvious and mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook (Paper Magazine, 2019). As Emma Sarappo writes on Pacific Standard Magazine, “For some, Tumblr was a virtual classroom that put users in contact with ideas and opinions they might not normally encounter – or they might not normally agree with.” Trace Pfaff, a 21 year old white, gay man from Tennessee, recalled in 2018 that prior to him joining the platform, he was a “Republican asshole.” After joining in middle school and discovering a whole new world he was missing out on, he found pleasure and knowledge in reading political memes – this in turn helping him discover new liberal ideas he had never encountered before. From Tumblr, he understood more about race, and what it really means to be white in current day. Similarly, Kenny Lu, a 22 year old from Long Island said “Tumblr opened up his world.” He noted that Tumblr was very big on mental health and noticed how experienced users were with abolishing stigma surrounding heavy topics like such. Coming from an Asian background, mental health wasn’t prioritized in Kevin’s home, in fact it was completely disregarded. Tumblr for him was merely an educational platform, and enabled him as well as other students to be more woke and aware of the world and the different perspectives one can uncover in just one place.

On December 3, 2018, Tumblr announced it would be banning adult content such as pornography. This was an unusual move for the company because unlike most social networks, sexuality and adult pornography has been regarded as completely normal, thus establishing a friendly community of porn lovers. The ban raised many questions for the Tumblr community mainly because the site’s brand is about inclusivity and openness. Tumblr had been alive for more than a decade, and this sudden ban led to far more questions than answers bargained for. The Tumblr app was even removed from the Apple app store for a period of time so that children wouldn’t have easy access to child porn appearing on Tumblr. There was even worry that Tumblr would delete people’s blogs in hopes of eradicating any backlash it was receiving from its users. Between 2018 and 2019, the mean number of new monthly visitors declined by 21.2%, according to the Atlantic. Additionally, the amount of people logging into Tumblr between these two years decreased by 49%. Porn publishers weren’t all found in one place, they were spread across the database. They have been woven into the Tumblr code since the start and have been one of the main reasons why the community has stayed solid all of these years. According to the Atlantic, “the average tumblr user followed 51 blogs, two or three of which tended to be specifically pornographic.” In 2016, when Yahoo owned Tumblr before being owned by Verizon itself, it tasked a research team to uncover this information about the cause of the decline. One of the researchers, Luca Aiello, recalled that the numbers were extremely clear and not surprising – “people were very engaged with that type of content, and banning it would determine the fall of the community”. Thus, the reason for the decline is evident and Tumblr usage has been decreasing in volume ever since.

Historically, many people have praised the rise of technology and electronics, but have questioned their effects, short term and long term, on people involved in the digital world. In clinical psychologist and professor Sherry Turkle’s book “Alone Together”, she doubts how well our relationship with technologies will last in the long run. “Technology now reshapes the landscape of our emotional lives,” she writes in her book, “but is it offering us the lives we want to lead?” She continues by rhetorically asking “And are we comfortable with virtual environments that propose themselves not as places of recreation, but as new worlds to live in?” Turkle worries that technologies of modern day, such as social media, distract us from being socially present and attentive to the people we are already with (Cornish, 53). This can pose many questions pointing to the well being of internet and technology users, isolation, and probably more topics concerning the distraction that the internet can be. Families might start to worry about their children spending too much time online, and with a platform like Tumblr, this could be hours on end of reblogging and reposting content.

In “Technological Determinism and its Discontents” reviewed by Christopher S. Yoo, it is also discussed that “the internet provided additional opportunities to create value by enabling companies to reach consumers whose numbers were previously thought to be too small to be served”, meaning that without the internet, there would inherently be no such thing as the communities that Tumblr helped establish for those seeking one online. There would probably be far less creative people, and a significant amount of ideation and concepts wouldn’t exist either. Platforms like Tumblr did provide a place for individuals to be empowered, to feel welcomed, and embraced in the mini communities that it forms. Even the Supreme Court praises the internet for being a “unique and wholly new medium of worldwide human connection that took content.. As diverse as human thought and made it available to anyone, anywhere in the world” (Crawford, 914). Even though life before the internet was simple and basic, the internet will always be there – expanding our horizons and enabling us to be as curious as possible, just like when we were younger. It helps us to be our most inquisitive selves, opens us up to endless opportunities, and connects us with other users around the globe. More than anything, without the internet, society would not advance as rapidly and quickly as it is, whether its effects be harmful or beneficial in the long run. 

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