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Katherine Upchurch 10/11/16


Theory of Written Communication Dr. Reardon

Evolutionary Communication on Tumblr:


Technology-driven evolution of communication
and educative possibilities

Education and communication function together to help society grow and now with social
networking sites (SNSs), questions about whether or not SNSs benefit our society or have any
use plague our generation. Unlike some SNSs, Tumblr is decades ahead of the game. While it
offers similar capabilities to other SNSs (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), like a profile, users
to connect with, and ways of viewing other connections (Nadkarni and Hofmann, 2012), Tumblr
far exceeds other SNSs by the way its users have created new ways of communicating.
Studying Tumblr as a disruptive social networking site will give researchers an understanding of
a unique social networking site, valuable insight into the evolution of communication caused by
technology, and how new ways of communicating can be used as education tools.

Tumblr, while similar to other SNSs, is unique for the ways its users interact with each other and
content. As explained by Nadkarni and Hofmann (2012), SNSs are defined by giving users three
capabilities: first, the ability to identify a public or semi-public profile; second, the ability to
identify a list of other users with whom a connection is shared; third, the ability to view and track
individual connections as well as those made by others. While Tumblr shares these capabilities
with other sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, part of its uniqueness lies in the user
interactions and community created on its site. Unlike Facebook, whose environment wants for
the sharing of information because of the sites influence on a users need for popularity
(Nadkarni & Hofmann, 2012), Tumblrs semi-anonymous profiles allow users to choose how
much personal information or what interests they share with other semi-anonymous users. In
studies done by Hillman e.t. al (2014), they found that ...users felt they were more themselves
on Tumblr then in the real world... That is they felt the anonymity allowed them to be more
themselves. Since users can change how much and how frequently they interact with other
users or content, Tumblr creates an environment combining the best features of other social
networking sites; Tumblr has the connectivity of Facebook, freedom of anonymity like Reddit,
and content similar to Instagram and Twitter all combined in one diverse, interest-driven social
networking site.

If you look at Tumblr compared to its colleagues, Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit, there is a
clear difference between user interaction but more importantly, it offers features found on
various SNSs and combines them creating a site of diversified features. While Facebook users
are motivated by a desire to belong and self-present (Nadkarni & Hofmann, 2012), Tumblr
culture focuses more on connecting based on similar feelings, experiences, and
understandings. More focus is put on the collective than the individual on Tumblr creating more
of a community than the stage Facebook creates for each of its users. This community, or
world, creating is similar to what is found on Reddit but at a much more aesthetic level. It has
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benefits similar to Reddits forums, desire for information gathering, and other requests, but the
interface differs (Tumblrs being more visual) and the length of posts/threads is reduced on
Tumblr while still maintaining the amount of information gathering found on Reddit. Tumblr
combines the text and connection aspect from Reddit and Facebook, respectively, then adds
Instagrams visual appeals by allowing users to upload videos and images to share for a
multitude of reasons. Tumblr combines aspects from each of these social networking sites in a
way that none of its predecessors successfully have. By studying Tumblrs amalgamation of
social networking capabilities and features, researchers will uncover how this generations
evolutionary, technology-driven communication methods have affected online communication
and harness this information to reimagine and reinvent education methods that create willing,
motivated learners.

As the first generation born and raised with technology, Millennial communication methods differ
from others not only in the methods they use but in the ways they use media to express
themselves. Tumblr users do not usually talk at length but rather construct their experience
by relating to content posted by others that often relies highly on shared visual cultural codes
(Gonzalez-Polledo, 2016). In response to the creation of digital media, Millennials have found
ways to have conversations without actually typing and responding to dialogue. The creation of
GIFs and memes allow users to show feelings which means instead of focusing on
interpretation in the first instance images themselves take the central place of meaning
interpretation (Gonzalez-Polledo, 2016). When Tumblr users create and use their blogs, typical
social networking site protocol of posting new content is not the norm, instead you see users
communicating by appropriating circulating images, videos, gifs, audio, and text images
(Gonzalez-Polledo, 2016). This reuse of media creates its own type of dialogue which can be
found in other facets of Millennial communication. More commonly, in text messages among
Millennials, you can see exchanges using memes and GIFs as replacements for actual. Along
with this use of GIFs and memes as parts of dialogue, Tumblrs geographically diverse users
create an environment where communication is neverending.

Tumblrs diverse geographical net creates more of an always on environment than most SNSs
allowing time between communication to be comfortably expanded or reduced at the users
discretion. Some SNSs are affected by geographical constraints wherein users mostly interact
with others geographically close to them, sharing similar work and personal schedules, creating
lulls in interaction during some periods of the day. If a user has 500 friends/followers and 450
live in the same state or go to the same university, there are only 50 people the user can
interact with after normal hours of use. Tumblr however provides both a shared sense of time
and a kind of anti-temporality, a place where the world as it is known is effectively reversed
and where new worlds are made in collectively sharing (Gonzalez-Polledo, 2016). Because of
Tumblrs anti-temporality, users can come and go as they please, while they are in Tumblr it is
completely immersive but users can leave for hours, days, and even weeks then come back like
not much time has passed. Since engagement within Tumblr varies from time to time and
migrates between active posting and staying aware of the posts of others (Hillman, Procyk, &
Neustaedter, 2014), communication can be quick like texting, medium paced like Facebook
messaging or commenting, or long like writing and receiving letters in the mail . Tumblr operates
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at various speeds during communication allowing any and all users to interact in ways that
Facebook and Twitter users just cant. The technology-driven evolution of communication seen
on Tumblr shows changes in what people use to communicate, how people choose to
communicate, and how often people communicate. This display of communication evolution
allows diverse cultures and communities of users to understand and learn from others
regardless of a multitude of barriers and, by studying Tumblr, researchers can use this
generations new communication methods to create new education methods based on how they
understand and learn abstract concepts.

Communication creates the foundation upon which educators teach and studying how Tumblrs
users communicate could allow teachers to reimagine how to effectively communicate with
students. According to Pandey and Mittal (2014), Tumblr is a potential hub for a lot of creative
and diversified content and this sets it apart from its alike. By understanding how users on
Tumblr are motivated to create and learn using media, educators can apply similar methods in
teaching. In the example of core English courses, teaching students about literary canon
remains crucial in education but when attempting to teach students about writing styles and how
to write well, using topics each individual is interested in is much more motivating. Hillman and
colleagues (2014) explain that Tumblr fandoms, or communities made up of fans of television
shows, movies, or books, have become major contributors to written work outside of the actual
media and even go as far to say that in fanfic, fans emerge as co-partners in the creation
process and evolve beyond a passive audience. This user motivation comes from story writers,
authors, and actors that interact with their audiences. In a similar fashion, if educators allow
students to run with what motivates them and then interact with what makes their students
passionate, students are much more willing to learn and understand concepts.

Understanding concepts in other areas of school can also benefit from studying Tumblr user
communication methods especially considering its mix between visual and textual elements. For
example, understanding the use of memes and the roles GIFs play is important in
understanding the Tumblr culture (Hillman, Procyk, & Neustaedter, 2014) because users are
able to understand emotions and meanings from simple strings of photos with less than a
sentence of text. The idea that Tumblr users view images as a meaning from the beginning,
needing no interpretation, (Gonzalez-Polledo, 2016) is a fascinating phenomenon that
educators could attempt to duplicate. By correlating important information in history classes with
GIFs or memes relating to the event, educators could build understandings of events by
creating visual cues for their students. For example, covering a topic like The Boston Tea Party
would be much easier for a student to remember if the teacher paired the lecture with GIFs of
people flipping tables and memes about tea and taxes. GIFs and memes help cue Millennial
users to feelings which are much more simply associate with events than simple textbook
passages. In the world of Tumblr, where users have created their own terminology befitting of
their interests, activities, and culture (Hillman, Procyk, & Neustaedter, 2014), arming educators
with research about creative tools, like those used to communicate on Tumblr, that engage
students and motivate them using their passions will benefit education systems and aid with the
reengineering of archaic learning methodologies.
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Tumblrs disruptive grouping of social networking site features and capabilities has created a
culture with an evolved way of communicating through online media. Its users diverse
approaches to expressing feelings and creating understanding and meaning have been studied
more and more as time progresses but their is still need for more, in-depth research. By
understanding how Tumblr users interact and communicate with each other, researchers and
educators can create new teaching methodologies that motivate students to learn and help
them understand concepts and material at a different level of mental processing and the
education system can evolve with technology instead of after technology.
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References

Gonzalez-Polledo, E. (2016). Chronic Media Worlds: Social Media and the Problem of Pain
Communication on Tumblr. Social Media Society, 2(1). doi:10.1177/2056305116628887

Hillman, S., Procyk, J., & Neustaedter, C. (2014). Tumblr fandoms, community & culture.
Proceedings of the Companion Publication of the 17th ACM Conference on Computer
Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing - CSCW Companion '14.
doi:10.1145/2556420.2557634

Nadkarni, A., & Hofmann, S. G. (2012). Why do people use Facebook? Personality and
Individual Differences, 52(3), 243-249. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.11.007

Pandey, K., & Mittal, A. (2016). User profiling on Tumblr through blog posts. 2016 International
Conference on Computational Techniques in Information and Communication Technologies
(ICCTICT). doi:10.1109/icctict.2016.7514557