Tumblr bought by Yahoo! I'm not excited, that's just how you spell Yahoo!
Yahoo! has purchased Tumblr for $1.1 billion. The only appropriate way to respond to this news is with a series of GIFs. It was as though a million tween voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
Tumblr is apparently worth $1.1 billion, and that probably doesn't even take into account the value of the book deals.
Tumblr, used by approximately 8 percent of online users, skews heavily toward the younger crowd. A full 19 percent of its users are under 18.
I hope Yahoo is budgeting for the backlash from all the tweens and teens currently using it as the repository of their crushes, dreams, and GIFs of Benedict Cumberbatch turning slowly leftward. The fact that Tumblr skews young is surely exciting, but you want to make sure you're the wall and not the poster. The poster is the first thing to go when you age and shudder at your erstwhile enthusiasms. After graduation comes the cringe. Just say "Xanga" or "LiveJournal" to todays' ex-tweens and see us scuttle away under a rock.
Tumblr is all about sharing and customizing. Up until recently, I would have defined the average Yahoo! user as "someone who didn't realize there was a way to change your default homepage." Then, with Yahoo! Answers, you could broaden that to "someone who needs information slowly and does not care about its accuracy," including the subset "someone who has a really, really specific relationship problem he should just confront on his own but who would prefer to get answers from strangers on the Internet." There are also people who use Yahoo! for fantasy football and e-mail groups, loosely defined as "Hey! One thing Google doesn't do!" and "people who do not realize Google offers these services already."
Tumblr, on the other hand, I would have described as the distillation, into Internet form, of the high-pitched squeal emitted by a 13-to-18-year-old who has just spotted one of her idols. It's curation as self-expression. Sure, there's room for text, and it will look graphically lovely, but the meat of Tumblr is in the GIFs and the images. It's a media blogging site. It's a scrapbook of magazine clippings and quotes, a shrine to the self created by taking images you largely did not generate and combining and recombining and hashing them up until Your Identity results. You are What You Like. You acquire followers, you answer questions and you bond with other people who like the same things.
Like the whole Internet over the past decade, Teen Self-Expression Through Fanning Over Things has shifted from Walls of Text to Walls of Images. Tumblr is almost infinitely customizable, and all those GIFs are hashtagged for easy access to the other people and blogs who like what you like. Worried you were alone? On Tumblr, you very seldom are. It's an interesting community for Yahoo! to try to tap. Unlike Facebook, it's an online realm where you don't have to drag your real-world identity around with you at all times for everyone to see, a fact that always makes it easier to keysmash over the cast of "The Avengers" -- or James Holmes, on the creepier side. The one trouble with all these hashtags is that sometimes they spell things you were not expecting, and what you thought was an innocuous phrase lands you in the middle of explicit fan-art of Jedward as elephant seals. But I'm sure Yahoo! thought of that.
Next to normal -- daily madness and the DSM-5
Countless daily insanities comprise what we call "normal."
Well before you get to the edge of what is generally regarded as sanity, we've got a few weird, widespread behaviors that belong in a book of some kind. We just don't have names for them. To name just a few:
- Our weird terror that anyone should hear us using the restroom, compelling us to run water while we use it even forcing the water-conscious to go so far as to download an app to simulate the sound of water, because Heaven Forfend Anyone Should Guess What People Do In The Bathroom.
- Whatever it is that compels us to check our e-mail multiple times under the table in the course of dinner, in case the Internet is having fun without us.
- The desire to hide our cat's litter box in something that looks like this.
- The desire to own custom portraits of our pets dressed in Elizabethan costume.
- Whatever it is that makes some people insist on talking to you on planes, even though you have brought a book and a Do Not Disturb sign.
These are flippant, but the question of defining what normal is comes to a head this weekend in a serious way with all kinds of implications when the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders comes out.
What is normal?
Well, what's in a name?
Part of the debate around the updated DSM to be released this weekend can be summed up in Juliet's question. The manual alters the descriptions and classifications of mental disorders that have already crept into the vernacular. Narcissism's out. Hoarders are in. Autism has been transformed to a spectrum, on which Asperger's now falls, ADHD is being broadened, and a hefty debate rages over all these alterations.
"The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for," says a character in Oscar Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray." But what about things more subtle than spades? These aren't, after all, just words: They determine what treatment is covered by insurance and what kind of services are available in schools, and inform our collective vocabulary as we go about the daily task of describing each other to each other. It's a terrifyingly immense task.
What's normal? Is there such a thing? Maybe it's just an absence of symptoms. That's why the manual stirs so much controversy: The terms that get used in the DSM help define the line between benign eccentricity and treatable condition. The Internet has made it painfully clear that everyone is weird about something. You just need to get to know him or her and find out what it is. But how weird is too weird? There are some clear limitations. But then comes the gray area.
To name something is to limit it. When you say "cloud," from the ground it seems clear what you are talking about. But when you're in it, is it mist? Is it water? It's a lot of H2O hanging out in some form, probably in the shape of something that frightened you in childhood. The DSM seeks to label the cloud, but at the edge, it's hard to define. Mental illness runs a wide range. Is too much grief a disorder, or just part of being human?
Just look at Google, where most suggested searches from "Is it normal" lead you down a primrose path of concerns. We all want to know what normal is. To suspect that you aren't may be the most normal thing of all.
"The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well," Joe Ancis said. He may have had a point.
But there's a point past this that is more difficult to define. No wonder the controversy rages.
The IRS's unreasonable 501(c)4 requests
The IRS is now being investigated by the Justice Department and heads are rolling, after word leaked that the tax organization was making a point of applying added scrutiny to tea party and Constitution-related groups applying for tax-free 501(c)4 status. I got a glimpse of the added work that certain 501(c)4 s were being forced to go through, and they really made it difficult! Frankly it's a miracle this went undetected so long.
Dear organization applying for 501 (c) 4 status:
In order to keep your 501(c)4 status, we have a few straight-forward requests.
For groups with "Tea Party" in name or something Constitution-related in mission:
Please send us a notarized copy of form 27(b) and attached straw, spun into gold.
Please return a signed copy of this form along with three millet seeds picked out of a heap of lentils, located over the glass sea east of the Sun and west of the Moon and guarded by a three-headed troll.
On completion of form 478(b) we can send you instructions for defeating the troll, but only if the form is notarized during a full moon.
To expedite completion of this form, you can sign form 37(b)4-Part D, giving us your first-born child in perpetuity, but be warned that the notarization process must take place in the middle of an electrical storm. Give yourself ample time.
Sign, notarize, and-write the first 3,094 digits of pi on the back of this form.
Alternatively, you can name your second child "George W. Bush's Presidency Was A Mistake" and "Ronald Reagan? More Like Satan Satan" and bypass forms AA-MM, but you still must complete the remaining 17 forms to the best of your ability.
Append, along with records of all bodily functions performed by volunteers for your organization during the past fiscal year, sixteen signed copies of form 17B-c4, one folded neatly into an origami swan.
Have you ever lusted in your heart? Provide a detailed confession below. You will need to have your husband or wife sign this.
Include six completed Saturday New York Times crossword puzzles, with video footage of you completing them without Googling anything.
Staple non-blurry photo of a yeti to the back of Form 3-4-32-7.
Append Form 97.1F-(m/jj) with detailed, logical explanation of string theory.
Did Sophie make the right choice? Explain, in Braille, on the back of form 8-9hh.
After completing form A7, explain ending of "Inception" verbally in person to Carol in the Cleveland office, who just doesn't get it and who is notoriously hard to pin down for coffee.
Correctly complete six Cosmopolitan quizzes (Are You Uptight, Cool As A Cucumber, Or Everyone's Doormat?) and include results as an addendum to Form 371b.
Maintain stable, no-drama friends-with-benefits relationship for a full year. Include eight signed affidavits from both participants.
Include recording of the sound of one hand clapping with completed forms 99-bbb through 101-aag.
What is love?
All of these forms must be delivered by pigeon to a gap that 8 inches wide that opens in an enchanted rock in the Toledo office between 3:32 and 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 29, if you are pure in heart and whisper the password. The password is on the 930th page of Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," but it is only visible to people who have read all six volumes. Afterwards, take the pigeon home and teach it how to love.
Go back in time and kill Hitler. Then, go back in time to repair the damage you have done by doing so. Take a picture of yourself standing behind him at Munich to prove it and append it with form 9222222-gggionqet.
Truly understand the musical contributions of Prince. Include six doves with form 93as93as93 who will testify for you.
I'm thinking of a number. What is it? Whisper it to a reed. Clip the reed, bring it to my daughter, and successfully answer the three riddles she will pose you. Be careful of the elf!
Also, photocopy your driver's license eight times. Burn all copies. Photocopy it six more times and mail Joe Biden your favorite. Enclose his response letter with form F945.
Fax this to us. NOTE: We do not have a fax machine. Be creative about getting us one!
Fix sexism. Bring us six pieces of the glass ceiling, folded in a manila envelope signed and dated by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Telephone this number and stay on hold for 8 hours. Do not hang up or wander off or the clock will reset.
Attach detailed description of exactly what Meatloaf won't do for love to the left corner of Form 1579.
Call 202-466-893[weird smudge] with any questions.
Groups Without "Tea Party" or "Constitution" in names
Please draw a picture of a spider.
Here are three wines. Taste them. Compare them. If you like, drop Carol a note to say which one was your favorite. But no pressure, obviously.
Did you enjoy the chocolates we sent? Good. This wasn't a question, I just felt like checking in!
Draw a picture of something that makes you happy
How great is President Obama? (A) Great (B) Just super! (Either answer is acceptable.
Here is a blank page. Write your name really big.
Sign this form and mail it back for a free phone! Otherwise, no sweat.
This form just contains the phone numbers of six young men we think would be good matches for your programming director Dana. Go get 'em, Tiger!
Make a dreamcatcher! Or don't. Just thought you might have fun.
National Review writer actually throws rude theater patron's cell phone -- do we applaud?
As someone who has been in theaters where people have not turned off their cell phones, I have many long, elaborate fantasies about what I would like to do to those people.
In some of these fantasies, I merely clear my throat loudly or poke them a little with a sharpened umbrella.
In my more grotesque imaginings, I shout, "FIRE!"
"Where?" everyone else in the theater asks.
"Right here," I say, touching a lit match to the hem of the offender's coat.
And then there are the ones where I pluck the phone from their hands and toss it dramatically out of reach.
Well, National Review writer Kevin Williamson actually did just that. He seized a patron's phone "utilizing my famously feline agility" and tossed it across the room. She slapped him. He was escorted from the theater. "There is talk of criminal charges," he adds.
It's an impulse to which I am intensely sympathetic, even if Williamson's dismissive description of the cell-phone-using offenders as "two parties of women of a certain age, the sad sort with too much makeup and too-high heels, and insufficient attention span for following a two-hour musical" does little to endear him to the reader.
People are already hailing him as a hero, although the situation raises a few questions -- she was texting, not talking, which I consider a lesser offense, and he did throw her phone, which given the amount of stock people place in our phones these days is almost but not quite like tossing someone's right hand across the room, except that your right hand's screen might not break when it landed.
Still, who hasn't wanted to do something along these lines? To take the offending cell phone and toss it away, not caring where it lands! What rapture! What bliss! Why not? The person clicking or buzzing or ringing in the far corner of your vision is not respecting certain basic principles of civility. Why should you? At that moment when you are sitting in the third act of Hamlet as he tries to decide whether to be or not, and suddenly you grow aware of a faint buzzing noise, crescendoing to one of the more noxious default ringtones, who has not wanted to seize the offending instrument and toss it as far as possible, preferably into a large body of water? "Please silence that thing," you think, "or you'll push that poor Dane over the edge."
The whole expensive illusion shatters. The glowing screen and the faint cricket clicking of a text being composed is enough to make the hardiest theatergoer's skin crawl, although both offenses pale compared to the ringing. There she is, ruining the expensive suspension of disbelief you paid $50 for. If you wanted to see people texting, you'd have gone to a movie.
Then again, with phones almost second limbs these days, maybe this is unrealistic. Maybe glancing down to check a text midway through the third act is the price a doctor pays to go to the theater at all. Maybe that kid who appears to be ignoring the performance in favor of his phone is actually live-tweeting it and ginning up interest in the play and will Singlehandedly Save Independent Theater. Maybe, you think, as steam pours out your ears.
Maybe the people who are being rude with their phones would still be rude if phones were denied them, crinkling their candy wrappers and loudly whispering, "I DON'T UNDERSTAND -- WHICH ONE IS SUPPOSED TO BE TOSCA?" to the people who brought them there in the first place and are just as mortified as you.
But how awful those cell phones are. Maybe as Alyssa Rosenberg suggests, there are better ways of discouraging people from using them than slapping them out of strangers' hands. It's a lovely visual.
But for most of us, this sort of dream stays in the realm of fantasy. Williamson might call it cowardice. I would call it politeness. The way to fight rudeness is not with vigilante rudeness of your own. But how much one wants to.
Amy's Baking Company vs. The Entire Internet
If you were, for some bizarre reason, to gather children at my knee and ask me to impart to them the hard-earned wisdom of my years, I know exactly what I would say:
"If you do something stupid on the Internet, children, never, under any circumstances, try to pass it off as a hacking. This just makes you look like someone who has done something stupid on the Internet AND who does not understand how the Internet actually works."
I would go on to point out that seldom in history has any self-respecting hacker come dashing in and made you look stupider than you were to begin with. Sure, hackers take over news accounts from time to time and release startling tweets about assassinations and cause the stock market to fluctuate. But when it comes to private individuals, no hacker of note has ever gone waltzing in to your account and started firing off sexual innuendos, CAPITALIZED TIRADES or emailed Images You Would Just As Soon Did Not Reach The Public Eye to the more nubile of your followers.
The children would probably have wandered off by this time to seek sandwiches, but they would know I was right.
Well, if the Anthony Weiner scandal didn't do it for the hacking excuse, the Amy's Baking Company meltdown certainly has.
For anyone not familiar with Amy's Baking Company, this is the most amazing non-news story that has happened all week.
In Scottsdale, Ariz., there is a restaurant so far gone that even Gordon Ramsay's shouting cannot save it. In fact, its owners so terrified the man behind "Kitchen Nightmares" that he decided to quit working with them rather than endure them any longer.
If you haven't been in the nooks and corners of the Web where this has been bouncing around, you are missing out. It's brilliant and unhinged, in the way all things that go truly viral are. First, the "Kitchen Nightmares" episode itself, which features the classic lines from Amy, "We have three little boys but they're trapped inside cat bodies. They're cats." It shows the owners taking the waiters' tips, berating the customers and insisting that they do not know the kind of food they want, firing the waitstaff, shouting at Gordon Ramsey and completely refusing to accept any criticism of any kind.
Then, if viewers had any nagging fear that this insanity was staged for the cameras, the Facebook page of Amy's Baking Company lit up with insults, as co-owners Amy and Samy inveighed against all the Web sites where the "online bullies" had given them negative reviews. Most of them are unprintable, but some highlights include: "To all of the Yelpers and Reddits: Bring it on Come to arizona. you are weaker than my wife, and weaker than me. come to my business. say it to my face. man to man. my wife is a jewel in the desert. you are just trash. reddits and yelpers just working together to bring us down. pathetic."
"I AM NOT STUPID ALL OF YOU ARE. YOU JUST DO NOT KNOW GOOD FOOD. IT IS NOT UNCOMMON TO RESELL THINGS WALMART DOES NOT MAKE THEIR ELECTRONICS OR TOYS SO LAY OFF!!!!"
As a general rule, if you are the one typing in all caps insisting that everyone else is wrong, they are not wrong.
The couple has been doing this for some time, but suddenly they announced that "Obviously our Facebook, YELP, Twitter and Website have been hacked. We are working with the local authorities as well as the FBI computer crimes unit to ensure this does not happen again. We did not post those horrible things. Thank You Amy&Samy."
If so, this hacker has an awful lot of spare time and an uncanny ear for dialogue.
The Amy & Samy story is essentially a master-class in How To Lose An Argument on the Internet. The basic steps, for anyone curious:
- TYPE IN ALL CAPS
- Explain that God is on your side.
- Call the other person a rude four-letter, three-letter, five-letter, six-letter, ten-letter, or twelve-letter name.
- Explain that you are right because the other person is an idiot, while misspelling something.
- USE ERRATIC PUNCTUATION OR GRAMMAR WHILE CALLING THE OTHER PERSON STUPID ALSO DO THIS IN ALL CAPS.
- Describe your cats as "little boys in cat bodies" or "little people in cat suits" or "children, but actually cats, but really children" or "non-human children."
- Refuse to stop arguing.
- When the backlash starts, insist that you were hacked.
They manage to do all of these, in some cases in a single post. They do everything short of comparing someone to Hitler.
Naturally, this has been blowing up online. To call this kicking the hornet's nest would be an understatement. They poked and poked and poked the hornet's nest while making disparaging remarks about the hornets' mothers. No wonder there's a swarm.
Folks, it's not the Internet. It's you.
UPDATE: I have constructed a handy Venn Diagram of the meltdown.