The Perfect, Imperfect Internet

A case for authentic, creative expression in our digital world

A few months ago, I read Jay Drain Jr.s’ article about Crypto Wallets. He requested that anyone who was building a crypto wallet that “felt even remotely like using Tumblr” should contact him immediately.

But what happened to Tumblr? Most of us forgot about it after the $3M Wordpress acquisition. It might have swept out of the mainstream apparatus, but the OG Tumblr concepts we love are renaissance-ing today. We’re all somewhat obsessed with documenting our visual worlds, identity, and community on the internet, and for many of us back in the day, Tumblr was our original visual library.

Reflecting on this, I decided to take a few steps back and make a Tumblr page myself. I immediately wondered why I waited so long. I felt the old, nostalgic quirkiness of the platform. Within moments I felt a wave of relief from the social platforms I’m used to, where everything seems like it needs to be ‘perfect’. There are no influencers, no timestamps, and no manicured photo editing tools on Tumblr. As a proud, self-identifying GenZ woman who is an avid participant in our internet culture, it was the breath of fresh air I needed.

I wondered – was I taking a break from the real world on Tumblr? Or was I breaking into the real world via Tumblr?

Is it just the “galaxy print leggings” we are bringing back?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has fallen back in love with the platform. Rob Litterst of the Hustle emphasizes Tumblr’s anti-mainstream social media approach has captured the hearts of GenZ, who make up 61% of Tumblr’s user base today.

I believe Tumblr is popular among GenZ because it’s authentic and imperfect, just like ourselves in the real world. This directly contrasts our experience on Instagram, where even the most non-curated pages feel curated – like they are curated to “look not curated”. I always find this slightly amusing. A must watch: White Woman’s Instagram by Bo Burnham:

Hyper-curated spaces have a stronger ripple effect than one might imagine. As a GenZ user of the mega social media IGs, TikToks, FB, etc. – the more I use these platforms, the more I’ve felt restricted from building community and connections – online and offline.

I recently found an article in Refinery29 titled, “This Site Helps You Fake The Perfect Life On Instagram – But There's A Catch”. The site raises awareness of the negative impact this portrait of perfectness has on all of us.

I’m wondering… how on earth did we get here?

This question takes us back to the original sin of the internet: advertising, a.k.a. payment not via money, but via your attention. As Li Jin emphasizes, the attention economy leads creators to create attractive content for advertisers (to read: the new influencer paradigm) who win. As a result, only top creators appealing to advertising votes make a living on these platforms.

  • 90% of streaming royalties on Spotify are earned by the top 1.4% of musicians
  • More than 50% of all revenue on Twitch goes to the top 1% of streamers today
  • The majority of podcast ad revenue is collected by 1% of podcasters

The ad-approved content not only hurts the wallets of creators, but also prohibits everyone from feeling comfortable in expressing who they really are online.

As Rex Woodbury writes, GenZ is over the “online performance” and is distinctly shifting towards authenticity & relatability. According to a survey published by CNBC, 67% of GenZ believes that being authentic “is cool” and that they’d “appreciate the chance to engage with authentic, imperfect art.”

Authenticity is valuable because our real friends the ride or dies can’t help but see the good, the bad, and the ugly in our lives. Transitively, we become more like ourselves around these people.

We’re big fans of anti-mainstream social media culture, and it’s not only Tumblr leading the way. Reddit is another example. As Johnnie Yu notes in his new Substack newsletter Cult/of, Reddit is driven by authentic expression of micro-communities. The perception of free expression (fueled by the tone, UX, UI, and network effects) actually creates a genuine, safe space for free expression. It’s a virtuous cycle.

What’s cool about anti-mainstream social media is that one person’s authenticity can foster creative expression on a communal scale. We’re not sitting in a vacuum of our own thoughts questioning, “should I post this”. Instead, we’re out there with our intuitive thoughts, chatting with strangers, and maintaining an open mind.

Remember r/place project that took place this April’s Fools? It’s a powerful example of a creative, communal expression.

As a company and team, we’re passionate about preserving and promoting creativity in our hearts and in our circles. We believe everyone is creative in their core, but there’s a load of mystification out there via mainstream social media that makes us feel like that’s not the case. Through exposure to visual creators (to their content, their inspiration, their process, and their worlds), we feel more creative ourselves.

At Cohart, we focus on stories of creativity. Today, the media depicts art as million-dollar-worth creations that are inaccessible to pretty much everyone. But art is messy, art is authentic, and the value is entirely subjective. Seeing the imperfect version of art is necessary to unlock the creative side in us and to help us feel comfortable again in expressing our authentic selves.

We are returning to old versions of the internet (less polished, more real), while creating new structures that help niche communities thrive so we all feel like we belong.

On a personal note – as a non-native English speaker, I’ve so long felt like I shouldn’t write because my English isn’t perfect and that it will require edits. With the emergence of our “non-perfect” culture, I feel comfortable enough to write and publish in English.

We’re excited to watch this revolution grow, and harness perfect, imperfect internet culture, systems, and products to foster more creativity and expression in our world.

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