I went to an extreme this week: I force quitted myself of the reddit habit. Reddit, if you’re somehow unfamiliar, is a social news aggregation website: members can rank user-submitted headlines that correspond to stories, images, and the like. In theory, the top 25 articles at any moment, the newspaper “front page” serves as a more interesting and timely version of reddit’s print, or even online, brethren; stories make it to the front page of reddit that get missed or dissed elsewhere. In theory, the Reddit community is broad enough to have an expansive worldview: differing thoughtpoints combined into clean, clear HTML and CSS.
I’ve been a reddit user since the early days: I lived through the multiple influxes of users from the much larger (and hence, by the theory of Internet audiences, more juvenile) digg. I lamented the death of the “good article”, the gradual replacement of interesting science and programming content on the frontpage for LOLcats and pictures from Russia. I survived the still-smoldering diatribes on Bush and that fresh minty wonderment of Ron Paul (the man it seems who can do no wrong). None of these were my source of frustration. I’m wholly aware that the “real” Internet is by and large a libertarian community: a free society of free thinkers who feel it should be kept free. It’s abhorrent to hear of police brutality, unfair business practices, and animal abusing Marines. In a sense, I’m glad that there’s a place where these problems appear front and center and are discussed, albeit somewhat sophomorically. Any discussion of a society’s consternations has value.
In openness, two articles I’ve submitted were found interesting enough by the reddit community to appear on the front page: one from the New Yorker called “We are all Larry David” (about how patients in therapy sympathize with the wince-worthy HBO character) and one called “The Man who Unboiled an Egg” from the Observer. Both are verbose, eccentric articles: I found them fascinating and submitted them. Overall, though, my ratio is poor: I’ve submitted other articles more for kicks, in an attempt to get a feel for what sticks with the community. And, in shame, I admit that I’ve submitted no less than three articles from this very blog. None gained any traction (in retrospect, that’s for the best.) I tell you this because I’m not one of those people who quit a community because they feel they’re not being heard. I was heard. I had one-liners and discussions, and reddit, until recently, served me well as an information and entertainment portal.
Reddit, however, has two major problems. One is that it’s very, very good at sucking you in. Any idle minute at my computer found me typing in www.re and selecting the first entry from the FireFox dropdown. Reddit sucks down those five/ten minute blocks in between tasks, then expands to fill the available space. I grew to rely on reddit: feeling uninformed if I didn’t visit at least once or twice a day. Nothing was equal to reddit: digg, the mainstream press, even rolling your own bloglist. I was a Reddit junkie. It eventually dawned on me that Reddit causes the problem it aims to eliminate: getting your information from only one point narrows your worldview.
A great thinker can analyze, critique, and respect a valid argument, and ultimately choose to reject it based on logic. But in order to become a great thinker, one needs to see a plethora of arguments for this process to reach maximal efficiency. Reddit, nor any community big or small, cannot do all the work of presenting arguments for validation: ultimately, any community collapses to the least common demoniator. I found myself blindly accepting those tales of police brutality, unfair business practices, and animal abusing Marines as representative of the whole. The reality painted by Reddit and the actuality of the real world are as opposite as fire and ice, but when you spend the majority of your time in the virtual world and not in the real one, which are you more likely to believe? Fortunately, some real world time gave me the following: I accidentally jaywalked in front of a cop and NOTHING HAPPENED. I bought a video game from Best Buy, set off the electronic sensor on my way out, and the security supervisor WAVED ME THROUGH. My belt set off the metal detector and when I apologized, the TSA representative said it HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. But after spending 20 minutes on Reddit, I’d be pissed as hell at cops, corporations, and corporals. (Sure, you could argue that if any one of these had ended differently, taken to some version of the back room and deprived of rights and freedom, this would be a different post. And I’d agree with you. The point is not that these things never happen, but that these things happen more rarely than Reddit would lead you to believe.)
The other problem is the Reddit community by and large likes to be the show, rather than see the show. Stories on Reddit come with comments, both in the form of editorialized headlines and in threaded conversations on reddit’s site. Additionally, Reddit allows (and I’d argue encourages) “self” posting, in which there’s no story, just a conversation. Some of these are interesting, others hilarious, but most are just venting and ad-hoc emotional votes. Here’s three of the latter type (from recent memory):
“Vote up if you don’t give a flying fuck about the Oscars.” “Vote up if you’re not watching the Super Bowl.” “Vote up if you think BUSH and CHENEY should be IMPEACHED!”
All three of these, if memory serves me correctly, were at or near the top of the front page. Maybe I’m not the audience: I watched the Oscars and the Super Bowl, and I’d think it’d be a major destabilization to an already shaky economy to remove the President from power or even force the administration to think about preparing a defense. (Granted, I’m not sold on that last one.) These “votes”, just as unscientific and uninteresting as the Ron Paul debate spamming polls, consistently get voted up to the top. Talking about the news is one thing, seeking confirmation that, indeed, other members of the community have the same ideologies as you is entirely something else. Ultimately, these were what drove me away; if the cream of an organization’s output is that we should “chimpeach the chimperor” instead of have a debate about the merits and shortcomings of the current administration, then what can you possibly learn by staying in that community?
So I’m done. I’ve blocked reddit at work (by routing the URL to the loopback address) and at home (by blocking it at the router). I’ve been gone for a week and already, I feel less angsty. Don’t get me wrong, the first 48 hours were hell: withdrawl sucks. But I can already feel the mindrot receeding. I’m not going to bitch about it at reddit, because I don’t feel the community wants to change.
I, however, do.