My Time on Reddit – Nine Years in the Making

My Time on Reddit – Nine years in the Making

It has been nine years since I officially “joined” the Reddit community.

I put “joined” in quotes because me joining the community isn’t really “joining”, but merely a formality. It signifies by registration, my entrance into their login database, and does not signify my participation in the community. For that, I would only be in the seven year club rather than the nine.

I first joined Reddit in the Spring/Summer of 2008 when Digg was on the decline (remember Digg.com?) The reason for my migration wasn’t due to the Digg collapse (you can read more about it here) but rather I was first introduced to this mysterious “Digg-clone” by comments from Digg posts claiming a more mature audience, deeper discussion (ones without what you can now consider “proto-memes” [1]), and more nuanced debate. Being a late-teenager without much of an outside life, I was initially intrigued. The early years of my Reddit adventure was one of awe and excitement. This was far before the sentiment of being “trapped on Reddit” became a thing. Finally, I thought to my younger-self, I could finally find people that were more mature, more intelligent, and more embracing of nerd-culture and technology [2]. There were small, close-knit communities of engineers, scientists, and the like that didn’t need to be verified by moderators. You didn’t have to be skeptical of the posters’ credentials, as there weren’t that many people to begin with. Sure, there were power users, but they were nothing like the site-spamming power users on Digg. And so my first foray into Reddit turned into a daily drive, causing me to spend less time on Digg and eventually deleting that bookmark forever.

For a time, it was good.

Digg collapsed a few years later due to the way submissions were handled and Reddit’s own version of eternal September started to take root. It was a slow, gradual change – much like a frog being boiled alive without even realizing it. Readership in default subreddits grew from mere tens-of-thousands to hundreds, and then later in the millions and tens-of-millions. The viewership growth was not gradual, I’m sure. And from that growth came the change in culture, the change in tone. Gone were the days of thee majority of rational discourse and calm and tempered disagreement. Granted, as Reddit grew so did its wealth of knowledge thanks to exponentially-scaling democratization. But democratization without equally-scaled moderation and enforcement of existing cultural norms and mores yields what I think as a “dumbing down” of discourse. With more people comes more noise, more words to filter, and the greater threat of incorrect knowledge proliferating. Society’s ability to spread knowledge and culture always had gatekeepers: newspapers had the editors, radio had the DJs, and television had the network executives. But the democratization of the Web due to varying developments in technology (e.g. smartphones, commoditization of portable computers), combined with the lack of editorial-esque gatekeepers like mediums of decades past, the ordinary person was given a voice.

Worse yet, they were given anonymity.

Over the course of my nine year experience with Reddit, I have gone through various shockwaves that are still feeling its effects across internet culture: the collapse of Digg, GamerGate, the fight for net neutrality, etc.. And with those changes in culture I have found myself unsubscribing from the once-interesting and intellectually-stimulating default subreddits such as /r/technology and /r/politics. My change in lifestyle and outlook on myself no-longer blended with the change in culture in those subreddits. I no longer felt like it was worthy of my time.

That is not to say that growth is a bad thing. But it saddens me to find myself disliking the state of Reddit and its place in the internet culture. As I grow older I find myself not wanting to associate myself with Reddit and its slow blending with the real world. I was asked fairly recently by someone what my favorite subreddits were. If you had asked me in 2009 I would have gladly answered with pride. There was a sense of camaraderie amongst “redditors” at that time. There were (now cringe-worthy) meet-ups where people would identify themselves with others by answering “the narwhal bacons at midnight”. If you were to say that now you would be labeled a “fedora-wearing neckbeard”.

The site has grown old, but not mature. Its wealth of knowledge is brimming, but its quality has gone stale. The people are more vocal and vibrant as ever, but I no-longer consider their opinions worthy of my time.

There is a saying, now, about the difference between Reddit and (its somewhat ill-considered rival) 4chan:

4chan is a place where smart people go to pretend to be dumb. Reddit is a place where dumb people go to pretend to be smart.

And with every-passing year, I feel it becomes truer and truer.

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Footnotes:

[1] This is a term I thought of myself. This includes “rick-rolling”, ytmnd.com, the “orly?” owl, and various YouTube-related memes from pre-2008.
[2] This was before it became “cool” to be a nerd. Arguable, but it’s what I feel.