I've decided to leave Tumblr for a few reasons. Hopefully this will mean that I can split my posts between here and my education blog (which is a Tumblr platform that I don't usually use for reblogs etc.). But I think it's worth reflecting on what was going wrong with me, and with Tumblr, while I was there.
There's something about the visibility of bookmarking -- which is functionally what "liking" posts on Tumblr does -- that is unnerving as a person creating new content. For one thing, it substitutes for a more meaningful response. Imagine if you had to comment on a post by saying, "I liked this post." It would be inane. "Dear Paul Krugman, I liked your column." "Dear Jonathan Bogart, I liked your essay." This is antithetical, to me, to the whole purpose of interacting with posts, which is to promote conversations. Conversing provocatively, and offering feedback that writers can actually use, is hard. I've lost sleep over critiques of my own ideas, and have abandoned ideas on the basis of a good enough counter-argument. That's as it should be. When something's not working, my first impulse should neither be to jettison it immediately, nor should it be to continue to defend it no matter how warped my own logic becomes. Conversations help draw the distinction between things we can keep using and things we would be better off discarding (perhaps to be replaced by new things, perhaps not).
Take "privilege"; the word usually suggests that some people are better off than others in certain contexts, often through no work and/or fault of their own, which is an important thing to recognize in lots of situations, I think. But "privilege" never seems to distinguish between what kinds of "better off" are in the conversation. It can stand in variously for material wealth (or presumed material wealth); general census-style understandings of economic class; a personal sense of entitlement to wealth, comfort, perceived social status, or [insert other good thing that one shouldn't feel entitled to]; presumed or lived experiences as person of a certain race, gender, sexuality, disability, or economic class; or some perception of having power in the world not already mentioned above.
Any one of these things is probably worth talking about in a certain context. But by using the blanket word, we somehow get to invoke all of them without worrying about sorting out which one applies in which situation and why it might matter.
Another one bugging me lately is the frequent blaming irritating writing, music, or other content on things like "search engine optimization" (see also: "trollgaze") -- a general bad-faith assumption about motivations of authors (whether founded or not). This isn't to say that no one operates in bad faith or for selfish or even socially reprehensible reasons, or to deny that there are new industry standards designed to up page counts for websites for click-throughs, etc. (say). But to constantly use this as an excuse for what's going wrong in music or writing or ideas seems to infect our ability to take anything at face value -- or to contribute anything worthwhile ourselves. Instead we cynically assume that any good that something might be contributing to the world is calculated by a cabal of manipulators with purely selfish ends and leave it at that. But things that are calculated by an evil cabal can be good or bad, useful or not useful, interesting or uninteresting. Maybe the premise is true, though I think it's invoked far more often than it could conceivably be true. But in letting ourselves off the hook by invoking a corrupt institution or context, we're just making our jobs easier.
What do I mean by "making our jobs easier?" Well, I explained one of the processes through which I reblogged a quote that I now disagree with here. Tumblr functions too easily as a memory tube, where posts get overwhelmed in new content and no one can reliably return to old content to explore it. Nor is there much incentive to. The reblogging function creates an illusion that a conversation is being moved forward, but there's rarely any direct response -- just a new piece of posturing from a different user, often not engaging at all with the original point -- or picking points specifically to be able to knock down as easily as possible. Tumblr makes every strawman into a real boy, so that the thing that you hate the most is phrased in a perfectly irritating way by someone, somewhere, allowing you to flex muscles that have been developed perhaps at the expense of other more important ones.
When Buzzfeed posted reactions to young women saying that they would "let Chris Brown beat them," I was mostly appalled not at these young women, whom I knew extremely little about (aside from their Twitter profile pictures and one tweet they had ever written), but at peers who could so easily assume that these young women were in need of some kind of a "lesson." If only we could "teach" them how to behave, we wouldn't see these kinds of horrendous displays! What tends to piss me off the most is when people in my general orbit don't seem even to want to think through basic implications (or possible future applications, of which there are usually few, being so ad hoc in nature) of their own claims. As for people not in my orbit -- I usually assume that I don't really know why they say what they say, or why they believe what they seem to believe.
But on Tumblr, there were so many people saying so many "in-orbit things" that nonetheless confused or angered me that I didn't really know where to start. I got tired of the self-righteous contempt for strawmen -- it started to anger me when I heard "straight people" being talked about with the same flippancy and disrespect that seemed to be the motivation for talking in more positive and complicated ways about specific non-straight people and experiences in the first place. I got sick of "power" just sitting there as if it explained itself, as if it was merely an ugly slab of concrete to be bulldozed.
And mainly I got sick of the little mediocrities, the inconsequential stuff, that was piling up, and how dependent on trawling through it regularly I became. I can't imagine how people with iPhones handle it -- I had an iPod Touch that I recently lost and the positive impact on my general well-being was surprising. I realized that, like with the iPod, the investment in Tumblr was more about reassurance and routine than it was about communication. And I also realized (I think) that I don't want to go online primarily to be reassured and to "do my routines," even though I have them (I call it "reading my stories"). Too much reassurance and routine, too many friends, clouds my thinking. It's like being in a room with people you know somewhat well and constantly knowing there are points on which you could put the low-key friendships at risk. I couldn't lose anyone on Tumblr, even though I've lost people in conversation before, and generally this has been good for me -- understanding that not everyone wants to be in the conversations I want to be in, and that I can't expect to be happy and right at the same time. Which is to say I felt wrong a lot on Tumblr, too, in some strange and implacable way. There was some undercurrent of wrongness to nearly everything I wrote there, being satisfied with so little.
And finally I'll note that the comments sucked, and nobody used them. I had a genuine back-and-forth with becoming-wave that is now impossible to track (I may condense the responses into one post here later). I've changed my mind, sometimes radically, in comment conversations with people like Frank Kogan and Erika Villani and Tom Ewing and Mike Barthel. But I rarely changed my mind on Tumblr, and part of it was that I didn't really feel in conversation with anyone -- the stakes were too low. So for the most part, I've decided to leave the Bedbugs Tumblr, which had become too insular for me to trust, and keep the ed blog, since there are so few people in conversation with me at that blog anyway (and I do want to keep some ties to other people's content elsewhere on Tumblr).
It's a personal little paradox I guess -- the more I know who I'm in conversation with -- strengths and limitations alike -- the more I get anxious to go somewhere else. I'd be in a club that would have me for a member, but I probably wouldn't want to live there.