What’s the deal with Reddit, and why does it seem to occupy both the Boardwalk and Park Place of our online mental real estate these days?
When it’s not busy trying to solve crimes, the quickly evolving social bookmarking site is fast gaining fame for Ask Me Anything (AMA) interviews with the likes of Vampire Weekend, Barack Obama and scary-seeming (but actually nice, based on my 10-minute telephone interview with him some 15 years ago) Gen X novelist Bret Easton Ellis.
Before you go and get all Millennial on me, I realize, as a once-proud member of Generation X (it used to be cool; trust me)—if I’m the one asking this question, it can mean only one thing: Reddit is over. Done. Move on, everyone. There’s nothing to see here.
Yeah, but there kind of still is. At least for the moment. If for no other reason than to put it all behind me—behind us.
Okay, maybe some of it is a personal problem—a gut reaction to the thought that what I used to do as a paid professional is now being done for free (sometimes well) by pretty much everyone online (including me). I know. Cry me a river.
As an aggregator of almost every clever and boneheaded thought committed to pixels, Reddit is both the best and worst of what an online community can be. Like the Internet itself, it is the product of both man’s most noble motivations and his basest instincts. It is lightness; it is dark. It is hope; it is despair. One minute it will restore your faith in humanity, while the very next it will send you to the Dickensian depths.
To people like me, who aren’t social enough to find Facebook useful, its relative anonymity is refreshing. But at the same time I admit to being somewhat frightened, annoyed and overwhelmed by what too often seems like a China-sized Craigslist with convictions. I mean, the other kind of convictions. I’m not talking about crimes here. Well, nothing punishable by law. Yet.
As both a product of the last generation of digital immigrants and a former newspaper editor, my first reaction was: God, this thing needs an editor. That there are no editors is what makes Reddit great. It’s also what makes it so potentially dangerous—as we saw with the witch hunt users launched after the Boston Marathon bombing.
Last month the Reddit community, through their own half-baked investigation attempt, decided that missing Brown University student Sunil Tripathi was bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Soon after, Tripathi’s body was found floating in the Providence River.
The moderator of Reddit’s “FindBostonBombers” subreddit later apologized for targeting the innocent student. And while there’s no way to know for sure what was going through Tripathi’s head right before his death, an entire online community calling him a killer certainly couldn’t have helped.
Sure, Reddit has a purpose and can do good things—if it focuses on its strengths and abilities. Attitude is one thing. Investigation is another. And interviewing? Well …
I’m glad Reddit is giving the public direct access to the people they want to communicate with. And it’s neat that the public is free to curse like truck drivers and ask meaningless showoff-y questions like (to Bret Easton Ellis): “Bone and Silian Rail, Egg Shell with Romalian Type or Raised Lettering, Pale Nimbus white?” But, gosh, I’d happily give up the excitement of live participation and having to wade through the community’s alternating attempts at kissing butt and seeming cool for some real depth and meaning.
But that’s not what the unfiltered, democratic Internet is all about. Here, we seem to think, all voices are equal, and all equally deserve to be heard. Which, on its face, is fine as long as no one’s getting hurt—or falsely fingered for murder.
Like any good American (and journalist), I hate censorship and love the First Amendment. That’s a no-brainer. But let’s not forget that just because we can write or say something doesn’t mean it’s worth committing to the limited (and shrinking) real estate in our brains.
Crap is crap, whether it’s on Baltic Avenue or Boardwalk.