It’s hard not to constantly share. In the age of social media, publicly sharing feels unavoidable, especially as more and more platforms emerge. But amidst the constant sharing, there exists public logging. Networking services like Letterboxd, Goodreads, and Musicboard are part of this experience. I publicly log on all three platforms, and it’s proven to be both a blessing and curse. While there is something to be said for the convenience of keeping track of the movies I watch and the books I read, the urge to log my consumption isn’t always innocent. Instead, I feel I have to share my thoughts about a piece for my friends and followers to see. I’ve tried to grow less reliant on these platforms as a means of posting my opinions, and I even have moments when I want to delete all my accounts and reviews. But I also know how normal the desire to constantly post and share is. Perhaps of even greater importance, I like having my consumption known to the world and coming across as tasteful. Knowing I’m not alone in my wondering about the logging experience, I turned to others for their takes.
I first wanted to figure out what we get out of logging. Among the people I spoke to, the most popular logging platform used was Letterboxd. In thinking about why we use it to begin with, Lyanna Hindley, the UK-based editor-in-chief of Obscur, noted that when using Letterboxd she’s “displaying my taste to the world. I hoped to find others with similar interests by using an online platform rather than keeping notes privately.” In a way, there’s some community on these platforms: in logging and going down a rabbit hole of lists and accounts, we can connect with others on shared favorites. Apart from our own logging, there’s a lot we can get out of exploring other people’s reviews. Resident Lithium writer Chloe Rose had an incredibly personal experience recalling a specific viewing. She explained, “Letterboxd made me watch The Diary Of A Teenage Girl because of the evocative reviews, and I loved the movie. But I wouldn’t have watched it if I didn’t see what it meant to other people.” This really touched me, because watching films that mean something to people is so much of what Letterboxd should be about.
Then I questioned if we’re even using these platforms for ourselves anymore––or if we ever were. Chloe noted, “It’s strange because I don’t have very many followers but I still feel like I’m [reviewing] for an audience.” In some way, consumption is for an audience, sort of like a panopticon. Whether we’re entirely cognizant of it or not, we’re always being observed. I sometimes can’t help but filter my streaming on Spotify, the movies I watch, or even the books I read. So long as people can see what we’re doing, we are inherently consuming for people’s approval, even if we’re seemingly reading for fun or innocently walking down the street listening to music. In an age when so much of our merit is based on how many likes we get and how many people absorb our lives and opinions, it’s no surprise that this way of thinking about consuming and sharing extends to the movies we watch and the music we listen to. Lithium writer Kaiya Shunyata shares this sentiment specifically in relation to Goodreads, explaining that the site stresses them out, as Goodreads’ “yearly challenge makes me feel like I need to start reading as much as possible. I’ve found it takes the fun out of reading when I get too in my head about it.” If we set goals that everyone can see, how can reading—or any form of media consumption—possibly be enjoyable anymore? In 2020, I set a goal on Goodreads to read 35 books, which felt especially doable with the world going into lockdown in March. Still, I felt tremendous pressure to read at least 35 books, all because I had an audience. I started the reading challenge again this year and recently saw that I’m “one book behind” where I want to be right now. The stress is exasperating, and it shouldn’t be. Reading is something I take comfort in, but so long as I keep track of my reading, there will always be an audience.
Fortunately, even in the age of observing others and being observed, we’re still capable of consuming for our own pleasure. It’s possible that we can still publicly log just for us if we use it to keep track of everything we consume. Thinking about this idea of innocent logging made me wonder if we’ll ever outgrow Letterboxd, Goodreads, and Musicboard. Perhaps eliminating them altogether would make consumption casual again—at least, that’s what Lyanna thinks. She told me, “I think deleting my accounts on public logging sites would make me care less about what others are watching. I would certainly feel less guilty about rewatches!” If people couldn’t see every movie we watched or every book we read, maybe we would consume what we actually like. Kaiya mentioned, “When I first joined Letterboxd I’m not ashamed to say I was watching and logging ‘classics’ to make people take me more seriously.” So long as our friends and followers can see what we watch, of course, we’re going to feel more inclined to log strictly arthouse films to appear more cultured. It’s not something to feel bad about, but it makes sense to curate our watches if others are tuning into our viewing experience.
Considering that Letterboxd, Goodreads, and Musicboard are incredibly popular at the moment, we’ll probably keep logging for a long time. There’s something entertaining about logging, reading reviews, and seeing what the world has to say about our favorite movies, books, and music. Knowing you’re not the only person who loved a film or book is comforting. The time I’ve spent on Letterboxd and Goodreads has led me to find a range of reviews, yes, but it’s also shown me new films and books I might never have found otherwise. It’s challenging to remember our findings on these sites when we’re inadvertently seeking public validation. We will most definitely be seeking that instant public validation so long as Letterboxd, Goodreads, Musicboard, and Instagram exist. But in all of this, there is still something to be said about the good that can come out of our logging. After all, if we never publicly shared or sought some kind of public approval––unintentionally or intentionally—we wouldn’t discover so much media or so many communities, and knowing that can make sharing our opinions worth it.
By Colette Bernheim
Visual by Kaylina Kodlick