Sociology of Tumblr

In mid-July, David Karp appeared on The Colbert Report.  I’m going to tease apart Karp’s brief appearance because it came after the announcement of Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr. The interview touches on issues of digital equality, the hijacking of “cool,” and privacy. Colbert is clever and hilarious as ever. His comedy is about making fun of his guests, so unsurprisingly, during the exchange, we see that Tumblr is dismissed as a frivolous waste of time, mostly because of its reputation as a site for porn. A sociological perspective sees that even the most trivial dismissals, even during in a short comedic exchange, carries social messages that need critical exploration.

Tumblr is a fun way to spend one’s time. Yet Tumblr stands for something more: it is a popular way for young people to interact online, particularly those between 18-29 years, and it is especially used by minorities. Data from America also shows that Tumblr is unique in its gender breakdown. Unlike Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, which are more popular among women, and Twitter which is slightly more popular among men, Tumblr has a near equal split between male and female users. There are no data on non-cis gender users, but Tumblr’s transgender and queer tags are popular, suggesting Tumblr is an important blogging platform for LGBTQI youth. Tumblr also draws a slightly higher proportion of urban and educated users.

Given its unique demographics, it’s useful to place Karp and Colbert’s discussion in a broader socio-economic context. Much of their jokes centre on porn use on Tumblr, but underneath, this is a conversation about digital privilege.

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Tumblr and the Presentation of Romantic Self

One of the things that fascinates me is the way a lot of young people seem to use Tumblr, which is basically as a positive, aspirational alternative to the social networking institution they’re accustomed to: Facebook. Rather than forcing them to represent themselves as they are, which I think is Facebook’s major goal, Tumblr allows them to represent the romantic self (or selves) they wish to be. I think this is a big part of the intense emotional attachment a lot of people seem to have to Tumblr.

Facebook is currently #1 in terms of time spent online, but Tumblr recently became #2. I think this is because they both appeal to intense human desires, but I would argue that off the two Tumblr appeals to the more positive.

Buzz Anderson, quoted by Fred Spears in an interview with Pixel Union. (via blech)

Buzz is awesome.

(via joshuanguyen)