Reddit is great. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, I suggest you visit it, get confused, think it’s dumb, and then find yourself back there for 10+ hours a day in a desperate search for original content.
I’ve avoided the site for years, knowing it is a major timesuck. Essentially Reddit functions as a aggregator of stories, pictures, and discussions on every topic you can imagine, from serial killers to 3D printing techniques. They have millions of active users, making up a small but loud percentage of the Internet, as they are adept at bringing important topics to the surface. Even major news outlets will scan Reddit to find marketable stories, in the process changing the lives of whoever those stories are about. Point being it’s easy to get caught up in the constant onslaught of new content, and Reddit is happy to provide it.
I gave in in April 2013, during the manhunt after the Boston Bombings. I was deeply and emotionally involved in the horrific tragedy, but as a California resident I felt too physically removed. Reddit provided a portal into what was going on, updating me with news much faster than CNN or even local Boston news sources could. Redditors (Reddit users) shared police scanners and together we listened as terrorists were captured. It was a cool moment.
The plan was to delete my account after that incident, for timesuck reasons, but of course that never happened. I became a casual lurker of the site, commenting here and there, maybe making a post in the “funny” or “aww” categories when my dog was doing something particularly interesting. However over time I’ve come to use the site more frequently, engaging in conversations, upvoting/downvoting where I saw fit, as if I wielded some particular brand of power.
Reddit has a system called “Karma” where you are assigned points based on how many upvotes (similar to Likes on Facebook) your posts and comments get. It’s kind of like a game, in that you are incentivized to get as many points on your account as possible because of reasons. Mind you these points don’t serve any purpose other than to exist, but even so you still want them, so I kept playing.
Then I posted something that did really well. It all started October 22nd, during my lunch break at work. I was eating at my desk like a normal not at all lonely person, and I decided to draw a little face on my work pumpkin. Now, I obtained this pumpkin to do 3D printing-related projects – I was going to capture it using 123D Catch, carve it using Meshmixer, then 3D print it so it could have it forever and ever. But instead of becoming a 3D masterpiece, it became a viral work of art.
I draw smiley faces on things all the time – I think it’s funny. So this big guy gets a smiley face, I post it to my Instagram and Facebook accounts, I get a decent amount of likes and think, “Hey Reddit might think this is funny, too.” Now, I’m accustomed to getting anywhere between 0 and 10 upvotes on Reddit – upvotes being similar to “likes” on Facebook – so when I got 20 upvotes almost immediately I was just happy to see that maybe I made a few people out there smile. Then suddenly I’m at 300. 500. 999! 1000!!! I couldn’t believe it! People were commenting – one guy even giving my pumpkin a Grade-A art review:
Suddenly I’m feeling very caught up in the Reddit intoxication. The website is formatted such that each post is listed from 1 – infinity, items 1-25 making up the first page. Let me just say, it is a very, VERY big deal to make it to the First Page for Redditors. And I was feeling it. Seeing my upvotes rocket up from 0 to ultimately about 2500 was like winning a prize. Seeing people comment on something I created, even just as a joke, was really cool. I had people on both Facebook and Instagram telling me they saw my picture on Reddit, and by extension knew my Reddit username.
It’s easy to see why Redditors hunger for the front page. In my few months on the site I’ve observed users being quite upfront about wanting Karma, and posting things with that intention, as opposed to sharing for the sake of sharing. It’s like an arms race for cleverness – whoever is the most talented, shares the news first, has the most interesting question/story, is the funniest – these are the people that earn there ranks in the meaningless halls of Internet Fame. It feels so real even though it’s not. The validation and criticism of thousands of strangers gives Redditors the smallest taste of celebrity, whittling down the usual 15 minutes of fame to a relative 30 seconds.
It’s over quickly, of course. The pumpkin never made it to the front page, although I did inspire a conspiracy theory and I’m very proud of that.
This is a great lesson in how the Internet works. You can do something as innocuous as draw a sharpie smiley face on a work pumpkin, and people will still go out of their way to find fault with it simply because it resulted in you (and not them) earning lots of useless, meaningless, valueless Karma. It’s amazing!
My journey with Reddit will not end with this pumpkin, but I’m glad I was able to get a taste of what it’s like to open yourself up to both the positive and negative aspects of anonymous Internet interaction. I will continue to observe how strangers fight one another for arbitrary Internet points, and perhaps decorate more pumpkins while I’m at it.
And to everyone who downvoted my post: Suck it bitches! I got more Karma than you!