More than once when I have felt down about something -- a fight with a friend or a bad grade on a test in school -- I have resorted to Tumblr.
Rather than call up a friend and rely upon a direct, personal connection with someone I already know well, I have instead shared my problems anonymously with other people on Tumblr. My real-life friend might at that moment be occupied by something other than my life's challenges, or they might use my struggles to gossip in a way that will make me uncomfortable. Whereas on Tumblr the people who focus on the problems I share do so by choice.
I sometimes visit blogs written by people I know and respect and ask for their advice. Or I write my own post on my own blog -- giving up the anonymity, while allowing people who follow me to answer. I use the network as a kind of collective wisdom.
Though I split my time between Berlin, Germany and Brooklyn, New York, the people I interact with on Tumblr are scattered from London to Los Angeles. What brings us together is a sense of community built of shared interests, and a real desire to help each other and understand one another.
As it turns out, I am far from the only teenager who has come to use Tumblr in this fashion. The site has exploded in popularity among a certain slice of the teenage world in part because of how its users have transformed it into a safe place where you need not fear being judged by anyone. Tumblr has become a place for misfits and outcasts to express themselves on subjects ranging from what clothes they like to their favorite TV shows to their sexual orientation.
Some of what we do here may seem unimportant, debating our worship of one or another fictional character or which member of One Direction we'd like to meet. But Tumblr also occupies a much more serious place for some users. People use it to seek help with their math homework. They use it as a plea for help when they find themselves confronting suicidal thoughts. People with serious mental disorders find friends purely through Tumblr, since they feel out of place in real life.
On Tumblr, people say what they really feel, honestly and without concern for bad consequences, feeling confident that this is the nature of the community. That encourages other people to do the same, all of which makes Tumblr more and more real for those of us who embrace it.
We Tumblr users do commonly worry that people from school might find our blogs and make fun of them or gossip about our problems. Now, with Yahoo agreeing to purchase Tumblr, it's as if that fear has become a bitter reality. My Tumblr dashboard -- the place where I see everyone who I follow -- now looks like a terrible accident or scandal has hit the site. It is full of fears that Tumblr as we know it is ending.
Surely, Yahoo -- having paid $1.1 billion for Tumblr -- is going to start advertising the site like crazy, causing new people to sign up without understanding the nature of the community. It's as if our beloved little island is about to fill up with high-rise hotels that will be jammed with tourists who have no respect for the culture.
When Tumblr was independent, a few clueless users would sometimes wander in, but not enough to bother anyone. Now, a stream of new, confused people will surely flock to Tumblr. We all just know that if Yahoo advertises as much as expected, soon enough our great aunts are going to be asking for our Tumblr URLs, along with our brothers and our parents. Once we know that everyone in our real lives is tracking what's happening in our Tumblr lives, the former will overtake the latter: Tumblr users will become self-conscious and fake, performing for their audiences, robbing the site of the element that makes it such a powerful experience now.
It may seem strange that a site bringing together strangers from points around the globe can create a space for interactions that feel more real than those with people at school and at home, but that's how it actually is.
Tumblr is so much more than a website at this point. It has grown into such a huge community, one that could be easily destroyed by the sort of reckless marketing that Yahoo must be about to unleash.
Tumblr users seem to function together differently than any other social networking site. In fact, I wouldn't even categorize Tumblr as a social network. Originally, Tumblr was a blogging platform but it has grown into something much different: Most of the Tumblr community, myself included, has categorized themselves into so called "fandoms," a term that simply refers to a group of people who share a passion for a certain book, show, movie, band or person.
Now, we worry that our deepest thoughts and our shared interests are about to be used by a company we do not trust to try to sell us things we don't need. For people my age, Yahoo is just about advertising. It's a sell-out that stands for nothing other than making its logo pop up all over the Web.
For us, Tumblr feels real, and Yahoo is the thing that will make it feel like a fraud, or at least inclusive of people who have arrived for no other than that some giant search engine suggested they click here.