Social Media

Strange Stories of Tumblr Life

Tales of teenagers, dada, and diet pill spam


Tumblr: more than just fan GIFs and arguments about intersectionality!

The best thing I've read on the Internet today is Elspeth Reeve's "The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens." It's a story about teenagers finding their voices online, developing an Internet subculture, building media empires that are almost invisible to adults, dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes, making money, losing money, and eventually falling into some shady work hawking dubious diet pills. It would be worthwhile just for its observations on this particular wing of Tumblr culture ("Increasingly, the lingua franca is absurdist dada," one Tumblr exec declares), but by the end it's become a much larger piece of character-driven storytelling.

Here's a sample:

I'd seen a few Lifehackable posts years ago and assumed they were satire. "Life hacks" are simple tips to make your life a bit better in the tiniest ways, the kind of tricks that are so obvious you can't believe you weren't already doing them—finding the best deals on eBay by searching for misspelled listings, keeping power cords neat with hair clips, making "time bomb soda" by freezing Mentos in ice cubes. (Applicability of the life hack often depends on one's lifestyle.) Lilley and Greenfield had partnered with a guy they'd known for years, Tom, to run Lifehackable. Tom was not good at it. His life hacks were less hacks than poor life choices. In one notorious post, he suggested that you could make a "personal ice cream bowl" by cutting a pint container in half vertically. The post went viral when another user commented "OR YOU COULD JUST TAKE OFF THE FUCKING LID YOU INBRED."

My so-called lifehack

The outrage clicks were so powerful, Lilley and Greenfield decided to experiment with "negative attention." Haters are more loyal than fans, so they promoted the bad hacks. The worst hacks brought in thousands of followers, and that's how Lifehackable built the bulk of its audience. "Tom knew what was happening, and so then he was more incentivized to actually not do his job right," Lilley said. "And in sucking, he succeeded."

Eventually we learn how the Lifehackable story ends:

Though they'd exploited Tom's failures, he got the better of them in the end. Lilley and Greenfield had agreed to split ad revenue 50-50 with Tom, but a few months later, they noticed the ads on the site had been replaced with images promoting Tom's YouTube channel JusstTom. "As if we'd never notice that all the ads changed to be about Tom and put his face on them," Greenfield said. Now—which once made $1,963 in a single day—redirects to the YouTube channel.

And all that is essentially an aside in a much bigger narrative. You should read the whole thing.

NEXT: Peter Suderman on Deadpool, Blade, and Superhero Movies

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s a story about teenagers finding their voices online, developing an Internet subculture, building media empires that are almost invisible to adults, dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes, making money, losing money, and eventually falling into some shady work hawking dubious diet pills.

    This sounds like the life and times of pretty much every creepy uncle, everywhere.

    1. Sounds like my uncle Rico selling boob pills to teens.

      1. That uncle Rico could throw that football though, couldn’t he?

        1. His mechanics were shit: Sub-Vince Young level without the accompanying athleticism. And from a rural state not known for big time football? 2-star recruit AT BEST.

          1. You sir are wrong!

            Uncle Rico once threw a football clear over some mountains… Beat that!

            1. Now he’s sittin’ in a hot tub with his soulmate.

    1. That means you read most of the piece. Bravo, you’re the most well-read of H&R commenters, and you win an extra 30mins in the ball-pit.

      1. you’re the most well-read of H&R commenters

        That would be Sevo, actually. Dude reads like a 500-page book on history every hour.

        1. Everything I know about history, arts and culture I get right here on Hit & Run.

          1. A good chunk of the books I read are recommendations from HnR commenters. Same for TV series.

        2. “”That would be Sevo, actually. Dude reads like a 500-page book on history every hour.””

          I meant “who reads the most of any given H&R post”

          Your ball-pit time has been revoked anyway. use it or lose it.

            1. Was that supposed to have sound? I assume he was saying, “Now I have another job for you….”

              1. I didnt even need the sound.

            2. Funny cuz it’s annoying

      2. Careful, if you think that the “ball pit” is like the thing the kids play in at Chuck E Cheese, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise.

      3. No one ever told me there was a ball pit! Is it behind one of those doors I have to unlock with my decoder ring, WHICH REASON STILL HASN’T MAILED TO ME.

  2. Reason is giving me an ad for Russian women looking for older men. Older men? Fuck you reason I’m still in my 30’s.

    1. If it is a 20 yoa Russian woman, you are “Older”…

      I see the same ad, once in a while. Think I need to be reminded I am 49?!


      1. When they say “older” I think 48 and up.

        1. Let me guess. You’re 47?

          1. 35. Swiss is 49 so I was breaking his balls.

          2. I’m not old.


            I’m not old, I’m 37!

    2. Hmmm….time to uninstall AdBlock?

      Hell no, Reason website is the…reason I installed it in the first place.

      1. Serious question. Is there an ad block for phones?

        1. You can try this. Never tried it myself, since I don’t browse enough on my phone where ads ever became an issue for me, but it should work pretty well considering who made it.

            1. Just downloaded it, and Reason at least is ad free and loads faster.

              1. Neat. No more ads. I kind of miss them now.

  3. I will bookmark the story for later reading, but the margin graphics are amazing.

    1. You know I just wanted to tell you that 97% of the hits on your tumblr page are from me. Take that how you will.

  4. Elspeth Reeves. sounds legit.

      1. It’s hard to stand the sight of two dogs dead under a sky so blue.

      2. Is she still married to that guy? Not only was he completely full of shit, he was an awful writer as well.

  5. Tom sounds like a real asshole.

  6. We are all dumber for you just linkin to that article.

    If that is the most interesting thing you read on the internet today, you REALLY need to consider a change in your bookmarks. (Or just spend about 15 min at PornHub FFS).

    1. (Or just spend about 15 min at PornHub FFS).

      Is there interesting stuff at PornHub? Stimulating, distracting, or titillating I’m aware of, but I’ve never gotten to the end of anything on PornHub (or similar) and thought, “That was interesting!”

      1. You’ve gotten to the end of things on PornHub? I usually just skip around till I find what I’m looking for.

        “Well, this looks promising. Ugh, braces? WTF? Next.”

        1. Porn tube sites are absolutely horrible for my attention span. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than 3 minutes on one clips before getting bored and perusing the links to other clips.

  7. “It’s a story about teenagers finding their voices online, developing an Internet subculture, building media empires that are almost invisible to adults, dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes, making money, losing money, and eventually falling into some shady work hawking dubious diet pills’

    This article really missed out in failing to use the “DashCon ball-pit” as the associated graphic

  8. Skimmed this and now I know that Tumblr makes the narcissists that hang out at Facebook look like pikers.

  9. Also = there should be no mention of “Tumblr Culture” without a link to the great ‘Tumblrisms‘ series by InternetAristocrat

    1. ^ +100

      One of the best things on Youtube.

    2. That is an amazing series. Back in the day, visiting a lunatic asylum was entertainment. Those videos update the experience to the 21st century but I find it worrying. I should really laugh at the lunacy of it but god there are some sad people out there.

      1. god there are some sad people out there.

        Yes, like the guy who, without any hint of irony, asserts a children’s show on Nickelodeon is an insidious Jewish plot to promote ‘race cuckoldry’.

        Oh, wait, that was InternetAristocrat.

        1. He’s made a few comments in the past that seem to show that he has some sympathies with the alt-rightists on the intertubes.

          However, almost everything i’ve seen of his actual videos (and not 2hour open-ended livestreams like what you link) are very sharp and insightful commentary on “internet-culture”-stuff.

          Excuse me for assuming Gawker may be overdoing it a tad in labeling the guy “ultra-conservative, ultra-racist, right-wing” for mocking the standard race/gender-pandering-formulae of modern media.

          I think the ‘cuck’ language is stupid, but i don’t think its always in every case the proof of “hyper-racism” that people might assume.

          1. Excuse me for assuming Gawker may be overdoing it a tad in labeling the guy “ultra-conservative, ultra-racist, right-wing” for mocking the standard race/gender-pandering-formulae of modern media.

            They don’t mention him at all. And looking into the numerology of the “overly tall” Jewish character’s football jersey as some sort of insidious symbolism to corrupt the pre-teen shikas of America to be attracted to Semites and Blacks is far beyond mocking a little tokenism.

            IA is a batshit insane douche.

            1. “IA is a batshit insane douche.”

              its possible he is 100% that. Its possible he’s 1/2 that. Its possible you (and the gawker analysis) is misreading “who he is” from the way he’s done his media-critic steez on the internet, mostly due to the fact that his audience is certainly very Alt-right leaning.

              My point is -regardless of whether the guy is or isn’t “batshit insane”, or a douche (and could well be both)…. the work that he is best-known for has very little indications of that at all.

              Anyone who just watched the videos he made under the IA name – his “Tumblrisms” series, the “Hugbox Chronicles” and a few other things looking at the SJW modus-operandi on the internet – he’s probably one of the sharpest critics of the way the “Contemporary Internet-Identity-Politics” game is played.

              i’ve only looked at 5 mins of the thing you linked to, and it seems like he’s simply pointing out there’s a modern version of a “White Shadow”-type show which uses sports as a context for a racial-stereotype ensemble-cast…. only in this case makes the ‘white guy’ a gay, and the male star a manly black guy who is the love interest of the Female QB. Of course the Alt-righties will make cuck-hay out of that. So what? The cuck obsession is stupid, but the observations about how the media is using race-tropes is entirely accurate.

  10. “Tom knew what was happening, and so then he was more incentivized to actually not do his job right,” Lilley said. “And in sucking, he succeeded.”

    You know, it’s ok. Really. In fact, I kind of considered my generation to be the one that strove to suck in a way to be cool.

  11. What did I just read?

    1. the equivalent of internet post-consumer waste.

      Don’t fret over it.

    2. Possibly the worst wank report ever. It’s embarrassing.

  12. See, this is what I’m talking about. It’s a pretty damn amazing big ol’ world we’re living in right now when you can Rule 34 your whole entire damn existence. Whatever your interests, whatever your lifestyle, whatever you want, there’s a community for that. You have no idea what anybody else is up to unless you make it your business to go find out. You don’t have to care what everybody else is doing unless you just want to. I see people referencing stuff I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about with some of the latest pop culture stuff – which kinda shows it’s not really pop culture as pop culture used to be. It’s “popular”, but only with some small segment of the population and that’s enough to sustain the culture. You don’t need 51% of the population grokking the same idea* to make it stick in the culture, a tiny slice of that’ll do when you’ve got a global reach.

    *I’m not saying you used to need 51% of the population buying your product to make it successful but you used to have to have at least 51% of the people knowing what the hell your product was to have a chance of selling it. Bob Dylan wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but they at least knew who Bob Dylan was. Now you’ve got successful bands in genres of music I’ve never even heard of because you don’t need to broadcast a sales pitch, you can use narrow-casting to a specific potential audience. I ain’t that audience so I’ve never heard the sales pitch.

  13. Tumblr headquarters in New York is brightly lit and slightly too warm, outfitted with huge screens displaying viral teen content and yellow T-shirts commemorating the time Taylor Swift wore a Tumblr joke shirt.

    Here’s what’s weird to me. They’re building headquarters in some of the most expensive real estate in the country for a website upon which users post content.

    Honest question… how long can this last as a business sector?

    1. viral teen content

      So… it’s a torture chamber?

    2. You mean New York? I’m assuming they located there solely so their Ivy League-graduated millennial workforce could live somewhere hip. Sure, there is no real business reason why they need to be there but signaling to your Facebook friends back home that you’re doing better than them is priceless.

      1. If your business is built around ‘hipness’ I get it. You build your record label in New York or LA (at one time). You don’t build it in Butte, Montana. You want to see the latest club acts, what trends in music are.

        It’s the business model I’m questioning. “My BBS is cool because it has this ‘share’ button which acts slightly different from this other BBS’s ‘share’ button.” *cha-ching* “I’m a billionaire sitting on stage wearing New Balance Sneakers and khakis!”

        1. New Balance Sneakers and khakis

          Dogg do NOT mock my style.

        2. Christ, do I have to give up New Balance now? I’ve been wearing for 25 years, don’t I get some kind grandfathered-in antihipster release?

          1. Take heart… I don’t put New Balance in the ‘hipster’ mold. I put it squarely in the billionaire tech exec mold. They’re two different things.

    3. If their HQ was in Columbus, Ohio, would they have as large a user base? Offices in NY, LA or SF are, at least partly, a marketing expense.

      1. I doubt that most of the users know or care where the HQ is.

  14. Jesse, FWIW, I find your treatment of the page more interesting than the page itself.

  15. I read the whole thing. The whole thing.

    It’s actually quite interesting once you push past the lingo: an economy based on naivety and gullibility, and Google fucking a lot of people out of maybe phantom cash.

  16. Can I just say I hate Elspeth Reeve and the day the New New Republic is burned to the ground will be one of the greatest days in human history?

    1. Elspeth Reeve is black?

    2. ” the day the New New Republic is burned to the ground will be one of the greatest days in human history?’

      It will not burn. It will disintegrate from mold and rot.

      Its problem (it seems to me) is that they have no real constituency of readers outside of some narrow group of “D.C.-centric liberals” who aren’t young enough to provide any hipstergoof/buzzfeed-appeal, and yet too-juvenile and petty for anyone in the ‘actual journalism’ world to take seriously.

      they seem to be endlessly parodying themselves = writing cheese-tasting-style analysis of Beyonce videos? Comparisons of Sarah Palin to Walt Whitman?

      They’re fart-sniffing elitists who want to pander to the proggy rabble but don’t seem to want to relinquish their elevated status in the process. Hence, the endless stream of “Oh isn’t that just *precious*!?”-analyses of internet-culture-stories that are probably a few years old already.

      1. The video brings E. J. Bellocq’s photographs of women in 1910s Storyville to life.

        *raises eyebrows*

      2. There are only so many sociology professors from middling private colleges to sell subscriptions to.

        1. that’s the idea, yeah.

          Its on the level of the Sunday Times Magazine = neither sharp “news” analysis, nor serious “culture”-writing… but rather just thin-pap that blends a little of both for a narrow-segment of shallow liberal effetes

  17. “Pizza’s strategy was brilliant: When a random Tumblr would write about “pizza”?either the food or herself?she’d reblog the post to her huge audience. Once, when a user wrote “so is tumblr user pizza god or beyonce,” she dug up the post and reblogged it with the comment “I’d like to confirm that i am both.” Users marveled at how quickly she responded, how you could “summon Pizza.” It made her seem all-knowing, but not superior. After Ellen DeGeneres ordered 20 large pies at the 2014 Academy Awards, Pizza dashed off the line “did u guys see me at the Oscars.” The post received almost 500,000 notes and was reblogged by John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, with the comment “You looked great, pizza. Congrats on everything. I love you.””

    Why did you link to this and how do I forget I ever read it.

    1. “One of Pizza’s most successful posts was “josh hutcherson’s parents are probably called josh hutcherdad and josh hutchermom.””

      Presented without comment.

      1. Oh come on, that’s adorkable!

        But I do have a soft spot for dad jokes…

      2. That’s gold, Irish! Gold!

  18. “You can start as many Tumblrs as you like, one for each slice of your personality, whether that’s gymnastics fandom (how I got into Tumblr) or Barack Obama-Harry Styles slashfic (it exists) or akoisexual identity (when your feelings of sexual attraction fade once they’re reciprocated).”


    “The reason akiosexual is a thing (also lithsexual – which is a term I continue to use because I seem to never remember akiosexual bad Kiowa I will work on that) is because, like gray-asexuals and demisexuals, akiosexuals are functionally asexual, despite feeling some sexual attraction. (Reminder for those confused- akiosexual is where one feels sexual attraction, but does not want it reciprocated, or may stop feeling sexual attraction if it is reciprocated.)

    Gray-aces feel sexual attraction infrequently or under unusual or specific circumstances – they are otherwise functionally asexual. Demisexuals feel sexual attraction only to folks they have a strong bond with – they are otherwise functionally asexual. Akiosexuals feel sexual attraction according to some other parameters (could be any allosexual orientation, demi, or gray-ace), but don’t want to have it reciprocated and may in fact stop being attracted to someone if their feelings are reciprocated – making them functionally asexual. ”


    1. “This community needs to be welcoming and open, not full of all this identity policing. Honestly, this space should be welcoming of asexuals, aromantics, demisexuals, demiromantics, gray-asexuals, gray-romantics, wtfsexuals, wtfromantics, akiosexuals, akioromantics, sex repulsed folks of any sexual orientation, and romance repulsed folks of any romantic orientation – why? Because even if these folks don’t fit neatly into someone’s concept of “asexual” or “aromantic,” they sure as hell don’t fit in allosexual and alloromantic spaces. In particular, heterosexual or heteroromantic folks who identify with another of the terms I just listed really have no place to go, because heterosexual spaces are so hostile to things like sex and romance repulsion. Homosexual spaces are also frequently hostile to the same things. I’m not entirely sure on this one, but I suspect that akio and repulsed folks would also not get a warm welcome in bi, poly, and pansexual spaces. Despite being queer spaces and therefore more accepting, these spaces are also still under heavy influence of compulsory sexuality and amatonormativity, which are detrimental for people whose sexuality and romantic orientation are not to the same group, or who have some element of repulsion clouding things. ”

      I need to go lie down.

    2. More categories of people for you to hate, man!

    3. Fuck it, the pleasures of modern civilization no longer outweigh the inane and idiotic. I’m going full Jeremiah Johnson.

  19. OT but deals with “teens” (new code for black thugs).…

    He got what he deserves b/c #blacklivesmattermorethanyours -prog/turd

    1. A former Marine became the target of an alleged assault in a McDonald’s Friday night,

      Say what?

      1. I don’t know, but I’ve been told…

      2. If they’ve never been in the gun club, they don’t know – ain’t no such thing as a former Marine.

        Just Marines who get fat and grow their hair out.

  20. Now once made $1,963 in a single day

    Does Elspeth Reeve know she’s an ad?

  21. I guess I’m just officially old now, because I read something like the linked story and I honestly have no fucking idea what the hell it’s supposed to be about, or why I should be interested in it.

    1. Same here – and it happened a lot sooner than I expected. I’m only 46 and already I don’t understand a thing that most people under 30 are going on about.

      1. What’s interesting is how it happens. When you’re young, you think that it’s because the old people can’t keep up. Then when you get older, you realize it’s because you don’t care.

  22. Jack and Jill did indeed go up the hill.

  23. The technology is so developed that we can watch videos, live streaming, TV serials and any of our missed programs within our mobiles and PCs. Showbox
    All we need is a mobile or PC with a very good internet connection. There are many applications by which we can enjoy videos, our missed programs, live streaming etc.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.