I wanted to both reiterate the points he made to further reinforce them (I do agree with the viewpoint from which he writes and have had a good conversation with him overviewing this very post) and add some thoughts and questions of my own.
The Tumblr community is broad, with users posting some 50 million posts every day  and so when he and I speak of that community we speak as a broad average. Of course there will be exceptions to every rule, and this is by no means to suggest every user is using it for the same reason. The trend, though, on a whole, is alarming: it’s content recycling instead of content creating. It’s reposting instead of posting. Which begs the question, and I Tweeted jokingly about this a while ago: “Where does the content come from – where does it truly begin?”
The problem breaks down nicely.
People like audience. I’m not sure if it’s a culturally learned thing or an inherently human thing, but we seem to have this desire to be heard and known. This simple fact drives everything from Hollywood to Facebook. For the most part, it’s the thing that drives Tumblr. There is a satisfaction of having followers and people hanging onto your words and posts, waiting for the next thing you do. As a blogger, I’ll be the first to admit, it’s a very real feeling. For some people that’s the sole reason why they do it and for others like myself, it’s the byproduct of a personal thing like exploration. The problem Mitch points out is true: people are getting satisfaction from reposting things that aren’t theirs. It makes sense, and it seems natural: you don’t need any talent or ability to cruise around the internet and sort things into collections from which you can derive purpose and pleasure. Why not?
I would echo his concerns that this is creating a low barrier to entry which can devalue the true creators of things but as a devil’s advocate I would like to point out that the sheer numbers have a testament. The change is in medium. Before the internet we had this ratio of creators (artists, designers etc.) to consumers and the roles were slightly different: the creators were probably trained in their craft and created things as part of their career while the consumers typically had to pay to access it. It’s hard to generalize over all the mediums, but I’m thinking gallery arts and music here. The consumer designs like advertising were free to view, of course. This meant the creators and audience were older and there was a higher barrier to enter into this realm from both ends of the spectrum. The internet has changed that. I don’t have actual stats for Tumblr, but I’m guessing the average user age would be a teenager of some sort and it’s free to both use and view, which means anybody with internet can do it. Isn’t it natural that the rate of consumption would increase? Should we truly be concerned for this trend, thinking that it’s ruining true creation? Of course the ratio changes, but are there net more or less creatives out there? Which brings me to the next point:
Barrier of entry for creatives.
So let’s assume you aren’t just reposting things, let’s assume you want to make awesome art! So you pirate Photoshop and go find some tutorials to make trendy things just like the ones you see on Tumblr. Then you post your version to Tumblr and people praise you for making it. Win-win, right? You’re a creative, not just a consumer. The problem, of course, is there’s a big difference between creating content exactly as a tutorial says and learning from tutorials to make your own thing from the heart. Sadly, trendy being the beast it is, people don’t really get to the second part, which is the thing that we worry about. There is a difference between creating and being creative.
And so the whole system comes down slightly. People can make things from free + a little investment of time, which will be reposted by people for free + time and they’ll be consumed by people for free + time (and these latter people have far too much time).
Full circle with the devil’s advocacy, I wonder if it matters at all. Is this not an evolution of the time spent by the average teenager of yesteryear perusing magazines? Sure, we’ve added the ability to clip out the things we like and share them with other people, but that makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course we feel like people should try to grow and question and learn, but given the trend of teenagers over time, is this actually any different than it ever was? Sure it’s bleak, but is it net better or worse?
I can identify with Mitch and his article, and it’s all very true and valid – the true creatives are running alongside the trendy “creatives” which tends to discredit the whole thing, but wouldn’t there be some natural falloff that mimics the older system (growing up, getting proper training and building real skills for those interested, the rest fall by the wayside as they get swept up in other careers)?
As a footnote, I want to comment on my own Tumblr usage. Yes, there is an Acrylo Tumblr and yes, it’s there for the sole purpose of your enjoyment, but before it was ever public it was a scrapbook for me, living on my HDD and slowly growing as I moved through the internet. I wanted to share the things that inspired me and to which I was drawn to inquire and explore. These are things that mean something to me because they were something to me when I found them. Questions I asked about them and pondered to myself. Elements that I liked (or didn’t) and kept as a reminder. I never kept them with the intention of sharing, but I shared because I feel it’s valuable as a resource for other people like me. I’ve had experiences where I’ve come across Tumblr galleries and cried when I got to the end because it was such a well curated journey full of things that were deeply inspiring to me. It sounds utterly silly to admit, but I do get sucked into these things with a sort of romanticism.
So I don’t want to say Tumblr is inherently evil – don’t get me wrong. I don’t even want to say I’m special or exempt from the things I’ve outlined above – I’m not. I do try, to the best of my ability, to not fall into that trap and use the platform to promote better thinking and inquisitive designing which is a good thing. As with anything, it’s not the platform, it’s the users. And I’d love to have users that follow (and spread the trend of) this better model of being.
Good artists ship.
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