Last Sunday, I posted some artwork on Tumblr. About an hour after I posted it, it had accumulated something like 400 ‘notes.’ A lot of people I knew had ‘reblogged’ it or ‘liked’ it. It felt good to create something that other people enjoyed, I felt like I was contributing positively to an artistic community. It was nice.
Three days later, that same piece of art had accumulated roughly 14000 ‘notes,’ making it my most popular post on Tumblr. It has been reblogged by people with usernames like ‘LA-DICKSUIT-XX’ and ‘IM-THELITTLE- MERMAID-DUH.’ I visited the blogs of some of these people and saw my artwork next to photographs of shoes and ‘Tyler the Creator.’ My initial excitement decayed into something closer resembling anxiety or shame. I sat at my computer and shook my head quietly.
I felt like my mildly successful artwork had become a disposable array of pixels by which strangers could express their individuality. I began to suspect that all of my previous artwork was failed attempts at becoming a disposable array of pixels by which strangers could express their individuality. One person had posted my artwork and wrote ‘gpoy’ below it. I was unhappy.
Tumblr’s accounting of total ‘notes’ attributed to individual posts was the problem, I thought. Because every bit of content on Tumblr displays its total accumulation of ‘notes,’ it was almost impossible not to equate that number with the ‘value’ of that bit of content, I thought. Everything gets a number, some things are better than other things.
I realized that if my ‘goal’ on Tumblr was to generate content that was well-received (i.e., content that got a lot of ‘notes’), then I had basically achieved my goal. It was like I had left the cave and found the outside of the cave just like the inside of the cave. Plato was wrong, I thought. There is no sun. Not on the internet. I had pursued hollow success and was still surprised to find it hollow. I had become a disposable summation of my ‘notes.’ I drank a glass of water while sitting on the grass outside. Water from the grass soaked through to my skin. It was nice.