Marshall Bowers

Conjurer of code. Devourer of art. Pursuer of æsthetics.

Tumblr: The Barren Wasteland

Sunday, May 9, 2021
425 words
3 minute read

When I think back to the glory days of Tumblr I can't help but feel a profound sense of loss over what has become of it. The site I once loved and built a home on is now nothing more than a barren wasteland.

My most heavy usage of Tumblr was during my time in college, from 2012-2016. Scrolling back through my archive, I'm greeted with a smattering of reblogs of all manner of content. Quotes, moodboard-worthy photos and illustrations, GIFs from the TV shows I was watching at the time—it's all there.

Using Tumblr felt infinite. It felt like the content I reblogged would last forever, like a permanent addition to my brain. Ever since then, I've found myself chasing that feeling I got using Tumblr. I want a place where I can capture tiny snapshots of time and immortalize them in a mosaic spanning a lifetime.

My appetite has only grown over time. I now find myself yearning for a way to archive content from across the internet. Far too often I'll find once-saved links are now dead. URLs changed, hosting providers switched, sites and their content forever lost to time. Every time I come across a dead link, a piece of me dies with it.

What would it take to build a system that could capture a lifetime of human memories? Black Mirror's "The Entire History of You" explores why this might not be a good idea, but I still can't shake my desire for it. The risk presented by being able to relive an unpleasant memory over and over again is nothing compared to the utter despondence of knowing a memory exists but being unable to access it.

Last October I was thinking back to my adolescent years in China. I ended up trawling Baidu Maps' street view trying to catch glimpses of my childhood. While most of the locations were still mostly intact, they were a far cry from how I remember them more than ten years ago. Many of the street view images were even a number of years old, meaning their current state might be totally unrecognizable.

Even during this exercise, I found it difficult to find my way around streets that I used to travel often. Some of this is no doubt due to not being in the physical space, but I fear that some of it is just my memories of these ventures being locked somewhere deep inside of me. If only there was a reliable way to recall them.