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Teens and Tumblr: What's the Issue?

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A quick scroll through one of Tumblr's 39.5 million blogs is likely to reveal pictures of food, clothes, movie stars, and other specimens of pop culture. Harmless, right? Don't be so sure.

Since its launch in 2007, Tumblr has established itself as one of the world's most popular social networking and microblogging sites, especially among teens and young adults. Even prominent celebrities like Lady Gaga and Zooey Deschanel of New Girl fame have joined. It's popular, it's fun, and it's growing by thousands of new members every day -- so what exactly is the issue?

My main complaint with Tumblr lies in one of its integral features -- the "reblog" button. Reblogging allows users to post material from blogs that they follow onto their own pages, automatically giving credit to the original poster. Though the intent of this feature may have been to facilitate sharing whatever it is that Tumblr users enjoy viewing -- one of the most important characteristics of successful social networking sites -- all that it's really accomplished is the systematic destruction of innovation and creativity among the younger generation of Internet users.

While that might sound like a bit of an exaggeration, it's not without premise. No matter how much interesting and creative original content is posted on Tumblr nowadays, it's hard to see past the millions of blogs that are filled with nothing but tired, recycled content, some of which has already been posted by tens of thousands of other users. While many in the Tumblr community claim to use the site to promote individuality and self-expression, very few seem to make an effort to uphold that principle. The fact remains that there is very little creative justification for reposting something that has already been seen more than a few times.

That's not even taking into account the matter of intellectual property and the ease with which Tumblr allows it to be violated. Although reblogging a post will automatically link it back to the original blog, there are entirely too few restrictions preventing users from simply saving a picture and reposting it as their own. Even for users who aren't so blatantly violating the rights of the original creators of what they're posting, Tumblr's format places far too little emphasis on crediting those who supply all of its original content. The people behind the real creative efforts present on Tumblr are consistently lost in a shuffle of reused and reprocessed material, in the end receiving only a fraction of the credit and praise that they deserve.

The real problem runs deeper than doling out credit for blog posts. The issue at the heart of the matter is one of a lack of encouragement for innovation, a quality that is all too important in a world that develops more potentially threatening problems with every passing day. Instead of placing value on conformity and the development of an increasingly homogenous population, as I would argue Tumblr does, we as a society should be focused on fostering an inventive and ingenious spirit in the next generation of scientists, artists, and world leaders. What we really need is not people to do more of the same, but rather figures that will challenge our beliefs and ideals in unprecedented ways. It is only through this kind of intellectual novelty that we can learn and grow as people, both individually and as a society.

While it might seem strange to detect such deep-seeded problems in such a simple concept, it's important to remain aware of what our actions say about us as people. I'm not suggesting that Tumblr is some sort of evil institution that has to be stopped at all costs -- quite the opposite. The Internet is and always has been one of the world's greatest platforms for fostering creativity, and Tumblr doesn't need to be any different. If a more significant sector of Tumblr users were to make an effort to either recognize those who supply the most original content or to create some of their own, it could become a fantastic way to both disperse and promote individuality and inspiration. It's all in how you use it.