Everyone on Tumblr is Alone

CW: I talk about some disabilities and loneliness. There’s ambiguated language.

One of my students – and depending on when this goes up, it’s one of my former students – wanted to make a project that was a disability accessibility guidebook as their major project. It was a good project idea, but way, way beyond the scope of a single person in a single semester. This student tested out a number of formats to present this idea, scaling down each time, and at one point, tried out tumblr, to check out what the disability access spaces are like there.

What they found was interesting and also strangely tragic, and they didn’t put a finger on why.

Tumblr has very, very active disability related tags. Disability based stuff for particular problems, for subgroups of problems, for really specific niche problems. You get a lot of personal experiences of disability, a lot of ‘do you think about how X affects you’ kind of approaches. There’s a lot about being disabled. What there isn’t as much of on tumblr are family approaches to disability. About relationships to supporting doctors and disability. About having insurance or medicare and reliable support.

It’s known that tumblr skews young and tumblr skews American. It also skews towards creative people and people with particular disabilities (like ADHD, depending on how you define disability). And all these things keep contributing to this really weird, protracted solitariness. Any opinion, no matter how helpful seeming on tumblr, can and often will find the person who wants to object, and not just to object about the point, but to suggest making that point is something that should not have been done. I’ve seen this done in response to talk about not wanting children to be shot in schools (not wanting children shot is classist, and also furthermore, ableist, and also public schools are capitalist industrial mills) and it all shuts down this conversation space.

This isn’t to say these communities are bad or bad for the people in them, or even that the behaviour of the people in them is unacceptable. It’s that a place becomes defined by the kind of people there, the acceptable and reasonable behaviour starts to represent a default. 4chan’s anonymous may pretend they’re all some ur-human, but they’re not – there are all sorts of assumptions about their default. These many different people, and their common behaviours create an aggregated person, a sort of silhouette, a ghost of ‘the person’ that is using tumblr.

And very, very often, that person is alone.

In a very general sense, of course; it’s not that everyone on Tumblr is actually alone. It’s that the nature of tumblr’s community as it is has this environment of people who are often fracticious and self-isolating, and there’s no social system for helping one another correct. Things flee your control, huge viral note piles, accidental dogpiling, deleting to avoid the hazard, then the deleting becomes the thing and that’s an admission.

Anyway.

It’s just a thought that’s been haunting me all day. I have a stable relationship with a loving partner and we live together and take care of one another and have access to medical coverage and can make decisions about what to eat and don’t have to latch our doors from our parents, and on tumblr that makes me the weird outlier.

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