Here’s an account of a normal day in my life, which I am sure many people share the same experiences, if not more.
It’s Thursday. At 6:30 am, I am woken up by the alarm music on my iPhone. After turning it off I check if there are any notifications from whatsapp, line, or messages. During breakfast I check my Tumblr dashboard, excited to see any new posts concerning my favourite celebrities. Before I talk further I think I should explain what Tumblr is, in case anyone still hasn’t got himself/herself one (It’s absolutely worth it!).
Tumblr is a microblogging and social networking site which allows users to post photos, videos, texts, and at the same time reblog other people’s posts. Users can follow other blogs and check what the users from those blogs have posted recently by visiting their own dashboard. I think Tumblr’s intentional purpose is to provide a platform for people to share interesting photos, videos, or ideas online, much like the function of Facebook and Twitter. I consider myself a bit of a movie geek, so I use Tumblr mostly to reblog other people’s posts featuring my favourite actors, movies, and TV shows (please don’t judge me). Tumblr is also extremely efficient in spreading news because I can follow anyone from anywhere with no time zone limitations. An example would be that I learnt about the Aurora shooting tragedy of The Dark Knight Rises midnight premiere in July almost immediately after it happened and certainly faster than my local Hong Kong TV news, because I happened to be scrolling down my Tumblr dashboard at that time.
Here’s an interview of Tumblr’s founder, David Karp, talking about why he founded Tumblr and what makes Tumblr different from many other social networking and sharing sites, e.g. WordPress, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
Karp mentions in this video that he wants to create a more “free-form” kind of platform for users, in contrast with websites that you have a title and several paragraphs as a post. He states that he aims for offering a platform for users to deliver their “limitless creative expression” that’s not limited to simply posting a music video on YouTube. It is more about how many different things you can do on the website that makes Tumblr so attractive and addictive to people like me.
Here are the top comments of this video I find amusing:
Let’s go back to my account of a Thursday morning. On my way to school I have to do something: sometimes I read a book (on Thursdays it would be the Digital Media textbook), but most times I just listen to songs on my iPhone during my one hour commute trip. Once I arrive at CityU and secure a wi-fi connection, I use my phone to check the blackboard app, to see if there is anything new I should print out. After the morning class, I use my phone to text or call my friends for lunch.
Almost everything I do involves my iPhone to a certain extent, even though I only got the phone this January. Before I succumb to Apple’s advertisement and my Apple-loving friend’s peer pressure, I wonder why everyone wants a smartphone or why everybody’s holding one and looking at it intently on the MTR. Now that I am an owner of a smartphone for almost a year, I cannot imagine what life would be without it. It is not just a simple phone where you call and receive calls anymore; it is my alarm clock, journal, phone, instant messenger, computer, mp3 player, and Gameboy all rolled into one. My life is so mediated through digital technologies, that if I don’t visit my Tumblr blog or have my phone in hand wherever I go, I develop anxieties and find it really hard to concentrate on everything else I should be doing.
I think Canadian media scholar Marshall McLuhan has a point when he called media “the extensions of men”. What social networking sites have achieved in this world is phenomenal to me, and using Tumblr as an example, I can now chat and reblog whatever I am interested in from anyone in anywhere. I can chat with a blogger I follow who lives in Australia, like a text post made by a blogger from America and reblog a photo from a blogger in Britain in a matter of seconds, and I don’t even need to know them to be brave enough to do it.
Here’s a text post I reblogged from a blogger living in America:
From my Tumblr dashboard, one can see what Karp means by “limitless creative expression”: I can easily begin a text post, chat, quote someone, link a video or audio by one click.
This is an example of me reblogging a gif set made by a blogger about my favourite movie Inception:
McLuhan (1964) explains it like this, “Any extension, whether of skin, hand, or foot, affects the whole psychic and social complex”. The whole idea of building a relationship with other people is changed, and I don’t need to actually sit in a room full of people and try to introduce myself and communicate with them; instead I can just go online and chat with people whom I’ve never met and get rid of the time and space constraints posted in reality. Social networking sites offer affordances on how we can relate to others, and I can publish anything and have a great number of audiences if the post is tagged properly. Tumblr also has missing persons posts often and people reblog those posts to give it a signal boost and help to find the missing persons sooner; Tumblr being an online community actually brings people around the world who have similar interests closer regardless of time and space.
Another example is the use of smartphones. By using whatsapp, we can talk to several people at the same time without much effort or delay, while it is impossible to talk to different people using just the phone. However, as McLuhan points out, while new technologies extend certain parts of us, they amputate other parts. Using a smartphone as an example, because of all the instant messaging devices created for convenience, most people text each other more than actually having a face-to-face conversation. It would be exaggerating to say that personal relationships are under attack because of new technologies; nevertheless we really observe less of our surroundings, something we would have appreciated should we not have smartphones in our hands.
Human beings have created multiple tools to help them survive and achieve civilization since the beginning of time. I think the way our lives are mediated by various digital technologies is a way to help people further develop their potential, and to better understand each other through the use of social networking sites.