I love Tumblr…big big love. And I like that you can like or reblog something without commenting on it, because, like, not everything needs commentary…not everything needs to be analyzed to be amplified.
But when I post original content (specifically blog posts or videos) I really like to…
Specifically, you said near the end of your post, “Is Tumblr … a place where you define yourself simply by the things that you like, and not by the things you say and think?”
In your post, you make claim that tumblr is great at facilitating a broader public discussion. I would contend to disagree with you, and lay claim that tumblr is actually one of the worst places for public discussion. Bear with me, I’ll come back to this point.
I think we (and the large part of everyone who is on tumblr) would agree that the benefits of the like/reblog system are very conducive for getting like-minded people behind a cause. However, this is not discussion. At its best, it is a rally cry. However, at its worst, it is an instrument to pander to and slap the shoulders of like-minded folk.
Now you might be saying, “But Ant! we’re having a debate about the presence of debate!” And you would be correct. This debate will never be seen, though, for three similar, but outstanding points:
- It is natural to take the path of least resistance. If a blogger can safely ignore naysaying commentary in a social variant of Occam’s Razor, they will. Why reblog what you do not immediately agree with? Why “like” what you do not agree with? Those that do seem to be the exception to the rule.
- Tumblr’s dashboard is absolutely impenetrable when it comes to any sort of multi-way conversation. How many clicks does it take to display the reblogs or comments on a post? Who is responding to whom? If the discussion didn’t evolve from your own personal thread, then you will likely miss out on thousands of potential conversations, and the same points will get made at various points, and no one will be the wiser.
- There are too many cat pictures and fandom cultures. By contrast, the Paris Review’s blog for poetry gets a couple hundred reblogs at best per post. Unless a work falls into one of the two prior categories, chances are it will go largely unseen.
I think Tumblr is good for many things, and is a decent facet for spreading agreeable or amusing ideas. The level, intensity, and ease of contribution, however, are not apt conditions for good discussion. That much is clear. But there is an implicit aversion to dissonance on tumblr, and I don’t think it is as all-inclusive as espoused. So I would give a resounding yes: Tumblr is a place to define yourself by what you like, but distilled by what other people like. In a culture immersed in positivity, you won’t find much else.
Tumblr is absolutely not made or optimized for discussions or back-and-forths - in fact, I’m pretty sure that a lot of design decisions were made specifically to make it a hostile environment for chatter, so that the focus would be on the content rather than on the culture surrounding it. However, culture, like life, finds a way.
There hasn’t yet been a forum for internet discussions on topics that doesn’t suffer from some number of glaring flaws, especially when the community scales. It might actually be that this is less a flaw in the systems we’ve developed and more a flaw in how communities function - a limitation of human social skills.