Fast growing lightweight blogging service Tumblr has been down for most of the past day and its users are being mocked for their concern. “Can Tumblr do a Twitter and recover?” laughs economics writer and funny man Paul Kedrosky, for example, on Twitter. “Does anyone outside Bay Area and NYC care? More at 11.”
How would Kedrosky respond if this was 24 hours of Twitter down time, though? Would we even hear his cries for help? Maybe on Facebook, or more likely on one of his regular CNBC appearances. The point is, one person’s silly diversion is another person’s life-changing communication channel to the world. That’s what Tumblr is to millions of people, and the fact that we suffer withdrawal when our publishing tool of choice goes down isn’t just a symbol of our civilization’s decline from meaning – it’s an illustration of how much things have changed because of these new technologies that have democratized publishing.
If you’re a serious Twitter user, you know how bad it feels when Twitter is unavailable for any period of time. If Facebook ever went down for a day? Cities would shake.
Some people will turn their noses up at such psychological weakness, such dependency. But consider the other side of the coin.
Some times I walk down the street and I find myself thinking about something that I want to share with the world. When I’m feeling like that, I pull out my phone and launch my Cinch app. I speak into my phone and record a few minutes of thoughts out loud. Then I publish that recording online with a click. It goes out to my Twitter followers and to my friends on Facebook.
When I can’t speak to my social contacts, when I can’t express myself in ways I’ve grown accustomed to, when I can’t learn what the thoughtful people in my life are saying and sharing, it honestly feels like I’ve lost the glasses on my face that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the world better through.
I can speak to thousands of people, all around the world, almost instantly, almost for free (I have to pay for the phone of course). That would have been unimaginable only a few short years ago.
Democratic discourse, the marketplace of ideas, the rational processes through which we individually and collectively make decisions, the expansiveness of our own horizons – all of those things are made richer by the proliferation of lightweight publishing tools like Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, YouTube, etc.
A win for any of those platforms is a win for us all. And when one of them loses, we all lose.
And when I can’t speak to my social contacts, when I can’t express myself in ways I’ve grown accustomed to, when I can’t learn what the thoughtful people in my life are saying and sharing, it honestly feels like I’ve lost the glasses on my face that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the world better through.
This new web that people not only read but also write to offers a whole new world of self-expression, interpersonal communication and self-education. Would we miss it if it was gone? We would. Is that a legitimate feeling, more worthy of understanding and appreciation than of mockery? I think it is.
Investors have put tens of millions of dollars into wagers that these kinds of publishing tools will change the world. Those investors aren’t fools.
What will the world look like in 10 or 20 years, when today’s young people feel entitled to instant, global, reliable communication and self expression? I expect it will look very different.