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Queering Time on Tumblr

Queering Time on Tumblr

 

This past Sunday night, the 86th annual Academy Awards aired on NBC, but mired in readings and papers, I was not able to catch the live show. Instead, later that night I witnessed the show unfurl through my Tumblr feed.  I settled into my bed and scrolled from the most recent posts detailing the big winners and highlights of the night backwards to posts relating to the opening dialogue and red carpet fashion. I scrolled through images and texts depicting record-breaking selfies, inspirational speeches, and instant reactions and scrolled and scrolled and scrolled and scrolled. I slipped into what I like to call Tumblr temporality in which times seems to exist differently and takes on an affective hue that differs significantly from other social media sites and from the way that time is experienced “in real life.”

                              

One might quickly check their Facebook for the time span of a couple of minutes for updates, but for many, logging on to Tumblr is rarely a casual experience. Data shows that Tumblr users remain on the site for an average of 23 minutes per visit, longer than any other major social media site. But from personal experience and talking to friends, it is more common that users set aside at least an hour for each Tumblr session. Tumblr blogging sessions are often planned out in advance and take the shape of an event rather than an occupation in between things.

The event of scrolling through a Tumblr timeline is best described as a slippage in time. The format of the “dashboard”, the modem through which users see the posts and reblogs of users they follow, contributes significantly to the endless scrolling experience. Posts are not marked with time-stamps and the interface of the dashboard is bare and simple, drawing users' attention singularly to the steady flow of images, text, and videos. There is no sense of the passage of time when scrolling through a dashboard and there are no on-screen distractions or interruptions of scroll. Tumblr is designed effectively as a portal, down which you cannot help but tumble: it captures the singular focus of users and cultivates a unique affective scrolling experience.

 

When asked to describe what scrolling down their Tumblr timeline feels like, friends of mine gave the following responses:

  • “mindless, droning, never ending”
  • “great for procrastinating”
  • “an escape”
  • “a weird span of time that I cannot seem to get a grasp on”
  • “uncontrolled falling”

                                                                             

Similarly to getting lost in the world of a video game or spending hours of the day binge-watching a series on Netflix, Tumblr is a medium of escape from one, particular lived reality such as avoiding working on a paper or as a part of a bed time ritual. But unlike these other mediums, it is very much based in reality. Users are engaged in discussion and debate on current events, they post selfies, and curate images or ideas that they see as a reflection of themselves. What does it mean to tumble endlessly through a world fashioned after yourself and your interests?

 

Tumblr also constitutes a space and time separate from the everyday manner that we experience the passage of events. In my example of viewing the Academy Awards through Tumblr, the posts went from the most recently posted down to earlier posts the further I scrolled. But the ability to reblog content that was posted days, months, or even years ago contributes to the experience of events in a dis- or multi-chronological way.

 

Instead of witnessing the events of the Oscar’s as they took place strictly and chronologically, I experienced the show through the filter of the emotions and ruminations of the users that I follow. So when Lupita Nyong’o won the award for Best Supporting Actress, rather than a post stating so at the time that it happened, I was made aware through photo sets of all of the past black women who had won Oscar’s. I experienced her win through text announcements in all-caps that had amassed thousands of notes and reblogs before they got to me. At the same time, I saw pictures of Lupita on the red carpet before the show that served as background images for text announcing her win. So while the dashboard is presented in a linear format, Tumblr posts are experienced in an often circular and heightened/deepened context.

              

Tumblr dashboards create an eternal present with only the referent of others’ experiences to mark a passage of time enriched by strict non-chronicity and multiplicity of feeling. Tumblr allows for events to unfold with immediate context and history in a way that other mediums of narration do not. Similarly, on particularly extensive Tumblr binges, I scroll through days worth of material and can only mark how many days that I have gone through because of big news stories that gained traction and resulted in a proliferation of Tumblr posts. In this way, time is marked only through current events and the rise and flux of news stories. Tumblr temporality presents material for an interesting case study on the implications of falling endlessly through oneself and one’s image of oneself, as well as experiencing time queerly, not as an individual or linearly but as a multi-chronal collective. 

 

 

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3 comments

Patricia—

I found this to be a very apt description and analysis of the experience of time on Tumblr. This is something I noticed actually particularly when trying to engage with the archives that Tumblr allows users to create. 'Liking' posts saves them in my Liked posts, easily accessible from my dashboard, and this is a sort of archive where I except to be able to access the things I wanted to save and revisit later. However, the interface of the 'liked posts' is identical to the dashboard. There is no way to search through things temporally—I have to scroll, on and on, until I come across the post that I was looking for, with no aid from Tumblr. This format discourages the use of personal archives—as if Tumblr wants me to keep discovering instead of going back in time—but when I go to another person's Tumblr page, their archive is organized by month. I would argue that this is because Tumblr does, despite everything I've described until this moment, encourage a kind of nostalgia. I see Tumblr users reblogging selfies or text posts from when they first started blogging; there seems to be a fondness for being able to visualize someone's evolution as a Tumblr user that Tumblr itself facilitates.

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Hey Patricia, 

Your post provided a lot of self discovery and second thoughts for me regarding how I use Tumblr.  I have always felt that Tumblr was different from the other social networks I use. While on my phone I quickly will check Facebook, Instagram, my email, and SnapChat but rarely do I give Tumblr that same kind of half minded attention. Your point about the lack of time stamps on Tumblr definitely showed why I set this network apart from others. I believe Tumblr requires a set aside time, as you mentioned in your post, because of this lack of a sense of time. You have to get invested into the Tumblr feed, fall into it, create that sense of strange time by piecing together the contexts of the posts to be able to have a worth while session on the site. 

It is because of this ambiguous context posting that I actually get annoyed when there are posts about current events on Tumblr. I find that I never can get a full story of what is going on. Using your Oscars example, I see a ton of reblogged and editted versions of the epic Ellen selfie but there is rarely further information about the event to accompany the post. I tend to resist Tumblr because of this estrangement of time. I have a constant feeling of being left out. I wasn't there during the live blogging. All I see are the reminants of events past. But it seems like this left out feeling that Tumblr gives its users are what drives them back to the site. If you are always logged on, you see everything in real time (it seems that Tumblr famous people are constantly logged on to experience everything) while the smaller blogs in Tumblr (like mine) are left with the pieces to put back together. 

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Your description of the experience of timeliness on Tumblr is really compelling, the example that you give is well chosen, by starting with the Oscars, you are able to draw a really clear picture of how the space/time of Tumblr is constructed and the way that temporality operates multiply, as circular, repetitive, doubled/doubling, reversal, slippery, etc. rather than as a linear chronology.  I love that you included examples of how other users describe their experience of time on tumblr!

I also found your description of checking tumblr as an “event” – something that is planned or scheduled rather than casually undertaken –  to be really interesting and compelling.  This seems to point back to the specific affective space/time produced by Tumblr, that perhaps it requires an extended visit in order to engage affectively with and contribute to the space itself.  It’s interesting to me then that you compare Tumblr to other digital media ( "Similarly to getting lost in the world of a video game or spending hours of the day binge-watching a series on Netflix") in order to draw attention to the specificity of a Tumblr-binge.  

How does the conflation of self/identity, affective space, and nonlinear time produce specific forms of engagement with Tumblr as compared with other blogging websites?  Do you think that these three aspects are mutually dependent, or could Tumblr function in the way that it does without (any) one of them?  I am also curious what your thoughts are about whether the forms of engagement that users mobilize on Tumblr differ between differnet tumblr niches.  I know that these are questions you're addressing in your final project and I'm excited to see the end results of those analyses!

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