On Keeping a Tumblr
I’ve recently fallen in love with Joan Didion. By Nicolaia Rips.
I’ve recently fallen in love with Joan Didion. She writes of a youthful generation that I only see the remnants of; in my pacifist uncles, in movie references. Reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem, I came across an essay called On Keeping a Notebook. Didion says, “My first notebook was a Big Five Tablet, given to me by my mother with the sensible suggestion that I stop whining and learn to amuse myself by writing down my thoughts.”
My parents said the exact same thing to me. Generations apart, the whiny child motif is the same. Creativity was a way out of social reality, and I escaped into books and drawings. Instead of spending another lunch period ignored by other children, I sat and illustrated short stories I made up. I didn’t feel as lonely.
But there was a critical difference: My first real notebook was a Tumblr.
I’d had notebooks before, but I was always unable to follow through. I would finish three pages and then grow tired of the constraints. That changed in middle school when a teacher insisted all of her students have their own Tumblr accounts, and use that instead of a traditional marble notebook.
There was something gratifying about writing and immediately sharing it. Even better, there were thousands of kids uncomfortable at their schools, dissatisfied with their social status, ostracized, marginalized and bullied. These kids wrote of their feelings digitally and had accounts devoted to being misfits. I found virtual communities of my peers.
In this difference, resides a dichotomy. Didion’s paradigm of creativity is not my own. For Didion’s generation the ultimate expression of the creative idea was presented in complete form to the distributors of that product. In Didion’s case, it would be magazine editors or book publishers whose changes were suggested only in the most delicate way and only relegated to the margins. To do any more would be seen as interfering in the creative process. Because of this, creation was an isolated experience.
On social media platforms, however, content is in constant transferal. Art is sensationalized; the most popular shows (ex. Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors) are those that can be condensed into shareable snippets. Culture is simultaneously sensationalized and ultra-consumable. Trends spread through discover pages and news feeds. It’s often unclear where many ideas originate.
This is typical of Gen Z: we are willing to introduce at an early part of our creative thinking the views of others. Our creative product is malleable. Not only do we not resent people who suggest substantial differences, we welcome the dialogue. There’s constant addition, correction, mutation of ideas.
In a way, we are forced, owing to the technological pressure of constant news, to release content at an earlier point. Ideas have to be released early or they will become dated, redundant, or irrelevant. But there is a trade-off: the same platform that forces early release in inchoate forms, allows for a bigger impact and a wider audience.
This same willingness and capacity to release abbreviated ideas has created a category of Generation Z: influencers. Unlike the 70’s when those best placed to influence important political, cultural, and religious issues only did so once their thoughts were complete, molded into the appropriate forms (essay, book, anthology) and had been processed through a hierarchy of experts and editors, the rise of digital networking allows for anyone, provided they have a certain number of people listening to them, to use their “influence” to shape society.
This creates the so-called “influencers,” people who utilize social media to create trends. Some promote their personal brand, be it a Kardashian sponsored by Fit Tea or Rupi Kaur, a poet who used Instagram’s fascination with her formatting to get herself a best-selling book deal. Others use their influence more constructively: young women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and those typically rejected by traditional platforms (print journalism, broadcast media) are able to be heard. It’s created a generation of women with access to platforms of change and the power to use them. All rely on their willingness to transmit ideas at an early stage and their ability to reach a fixed and relatively large audience.
When I got older, I was lucky enough to go to a public arts high school in New York. There were always people creating. I was involved in endless projects; modeling for my friend’s makeup portfolios, writing short films, and singing on E. P’s. Now at Brown University, the students are not as artistically minded. There isn’t a constant buzz of creativity.
But social media simulates creative hotbeds, and I am able to compensate by being in contact with artists across the country, across the globe. If I want to start a literary magazine with a girl in Australia, or interview Gen Zs in Buenos Aires, all I need is a Wifi connection.
It comes down to reading the following description by Didion without the word “not.” Didion writes, “We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées.”
I still long to complete one of the towers of notebooks that grow next to my bed. But, I am a willing prisoner of my generation and if you were wondering, my Instagram handle is @nrips.