Getting your education from Tumblr

I saw a kind of post tonight on Tumblr that annoys me, and I responded -- and my response was pretty long and I can't think of something else to blog about today, so I'm reposting it here. Here's a link for full context. The post was about not taking information on Tumblr too seriously, and discouraging people from treating Tumblr like it's a legitimate source the way school is.

I responded:

ok but that’s not what the “learning more from tumblr than school” thing really means? It’s not about any given individual point of information. It’s that the collective experience of spending time on Tumblr leads to a more sophisticated and more accurate education than school for a lot of people. Like, lots of high school teachers did have to get higher degrees to do their jobs — and they still show up and teach absolute bullshit like it’s the final word on a topic. Lots of teachers who know better are required to teach bullshit because it’s on the curriculum.

And comments like this one are part of that benefit — which is why it’s so frustrating when they’re posted in this ‘um actually’ tone — the experience of realizing that a source was wrong is an educational experience people don’t get very often in school. Pointers on how to double-check or verify information is a valuable part of a Tumblr education, and it’s a huge benefit, not a drawback, that the environment of Tumblr can help you to hone your bullshit sense and figure out when you should be googling to make sure something’s true before you reblog it. That’s not really a thing in school, but it’s one of the most important things about being informed. You learn that on social media, exactly because it’s not a platform with any institutional authority.

You shouldn’t treat Tumblr the way you treat Wikipedia, because it’s not a highly regulated, systematic project. You should treat Tumblr the way you treat the internet — by understanding that anyone can post here, and paying attention to who’s doing the talking. Because, even though it’s not required, some people are definitely bringing their Ph.D.’s to the conversation, and their posts may well be worth treating like a primary source. Or not Ph.Ds but feet on the ground at actual events that are really happening. Or valuable perspective and experience. That stuff gets posted straight to Tumblr all the time, and it’s not less legitimate because nobody got paid to put it here.

Tumblr doesn’t have to be flawless to be doing a better job than, or serving as an extremely valuable supplement to, institutional education.