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019: internet : social media : on reposting


In my non-existent spare time, while I am resting, I moderate a Google+ community. My duties include screening people who ask to join, and so I need to look at the profiles of the applicants.

It is increasingly difficult to tell people from spambots.

It isn't really that spambots are getting more clever, which is what you'd expect. No, the cause is that real people behave like bots do now. Real people want their accounts to look active, and so they post a ton of links, without comment, so the account is clearly in use. Most of those posts are re-posts, which is the easiest kind of posting there is: it consists of taking a link that has already been posted within that media platform, and hitting the 're-post' button. It's something a bot would do. Something that requires very little effort. But that raises the question: why have an account at all, if all you are doing is re-posting items that someone else already posted?

Tumbling as Collecting

The Internet is big and messy, and it's nice to have someone else filter it for you. I get that, sort of.

As an experiment a few years ago, I set up a tumble log on Tumblr at mobilelene.tumblr.com, and told NONE of my friends, so I could only interact with people based on the content of my posts. Tumblr at the time was filled with theme pages, like f**kyeahX, where X was the subject that the person who set up the log was interested in, and that person would devote their time to finding anything on the theme of X, and reposting it to their own log. They were gathering things relating to their passion. They were "collecting." Which is sweet, and endearing, but also kind of odd, when you think about it, because that person generally WAS NOT CREATING ANY CONTENT, yet was publishing to the Internet. They were just organizing the content of others.

I have been trying to conceptually connect f**kyeahX to the Victorian habit of creating a "cabinet of curiosities," a glass case (vitrine) of things you had collected to show everyone who visited how interesting and worldly you are. (Victorians had their own way of 'checking in' during their travels and publicizing their activities afterward, which we pretend we aren't emulating now.)

Affinities over Friends

I had a good time with my tumble log. I posted items that I had enjoyed while I was surfing the Internet on themes relating to architecture, design, women's rights, volcanoes, space photography, and fine art photography, generally with commentary on why I thought it was worthwhile. I amassed a list of followers, and of others who I followed, all strangers to me, every one. I could tell by the number of hearts and reposts my posts received which topics my followers liked, and I adjusted my sharing to match their tastes (more architecture and women's rights, less photography - even though photography is my biggest passion). Within the culture of re-posting, I felt like bringing in any content from outside of Tumblr, even if it was links to articles in completely mainstream art publication websites, was expanding the fodder available to the re-posters within the Tumblr ecosystem.

I wound up a group of people who shared some of my interests enthusiastically, from mail art to minimalist architectural design to Icelandic volcanoes, who I had never met and likely will never meet. I was having more fun with this freely formed affinity group than with my "FB friends," who may have gone to school or work with me at some point, but don't necessarily care about such important topics as what volcanic eruptions look like from space, or which nebulae were recently photographed by NASA. That's forgivable, of course: it just means that my classmates & colleagues are less fun when it comes to certain topics than strangers who LOVE the topics I love. It's worth knowing.

The Sum of All Posts

When eye strain began to curtail my Internet time, I had to ask myself: what, exactly, was I accomplishing? Yes, I was enjoying my reading on the Internet; yes, I had found people who shared content with me that I liked, and vice versa. That's NICE. But for all the time I spent on it, mostly late at night, what was my time each night (or on weekends, since I could pre-schedule posts) resulting in? Better web surfing?

Well, yes.

Long story short: It is fun to have the things you post receive little hearts and get reposted, and choosing things that were professionally written and posted to stylish websites outside of Tumblr nearly guaranteed a collection of hearts, but that ultimately isn't as satisfying as real authorship. Knowing that I could have instead devoted the time to writing another first draft of a novel or some other book, but all I wound up with is a collection of links with little hearts on them... It's rather boring, relative to the sense of accomplishment and bragging rights that come with authorship. Yes, authorship takes time, and yes, the outcome is less certain. But it's a lot better than investing so much time to have a collection of links which a good bot could have developed.

I stopped using Tumblr, cut back on my web reading, and spent some quality time with my eye doctor.

Sharing is nice, just like our parents always told us, but is also limited.


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images and original text Copyright © 2014 A. E. Graves

(posted November 30, 2014)

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