I scroll endlessly through Reddit, the so called “front-page of the Internet”, and go down rabbit hole after rabbit hole in an effort to learn something useful to justify the time I spend on the largest community-based site on the Internet.
Reddit as a hobby
The best description I’ve heard of Reddit is “Reddit is things you care about shared by people you don’t know.”
Reddit can be a rewarding, positive hobby. There are plenty of hobbyist communities on Reddit, like DIY, woodworking, and any other hobby you can think of. I’ve used it to get help for things I’m building, tech I’m troubleshooting, or podcast marketing, and I’ve given help in the same communities.
I feel more informed on news and issues. I am often on my city and province’s subreddit and feel that I know more about what’s going on locally than before. Before I buy something, I check on Reddit to see what other people are saying, and often, I find better alternatives that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.
After I watch movies or read books, I find the posts about them on Reddit to see what other people thought and learn about things I may have missed, which make me appreciate the movies and books even more. There are countless movie, TV show, and book recommendation posts that help me figure out what to watch or read next.
When I’m bored and allow myself to do something mindless, I scroll through the popular section looking at dozens and dozens of memes, people doing dumb things, people doing amazing things, and mesmerizing gifs of obscure things like how people cut watermelon in Malaysia.
What is Reddit
It is in the top 20 of most visited sites just behind Facebook with the majority of its users coming from the US, UK, and Canada.
It was founded in 2005 by University of Virginia roommates and sold in 2006 for $10 to $20 million. In 2019, they were valued at $3 billion dollars.
Reddit is one part aggregated social news website, one part discussion board, and one part content ranking. The name is a play on the phrase “read it”.
In short, Reddit is completely user-generated content, including photos, videos, link, and just text posts, and each post includes a discussion like a message board.
The site is divided into more than 138,000 and growing categories known as “subreddits”.
The key to Reddit is it’s voting, or upvotes and downvotes. Users can vote on posts and comments, and users are given a score called “karma” that reflects their standing in the community.
The front page of Reddit exposes the most popular posts from a bunch of subreddits. Users can register to customize this feed by following and unfollowing specific subreddits.
Subreddits are moderated by other Reddit users on a volunteer basis. They are responsible for managing the subreddits with specific rules, removing post and comments that violate this rules, and keeping things on topic. They essentially curate the subreddits.
Reddit is known for a few different reasons:
- It’s known to be open and diverse with a community for every interest
- It’s users are known to be passionate and “anti-establishment”
- It’s been used politically for presidential campaigns, including Obama and Trump
- Its Ask Me Anything posts where notable celebrities, politicians, and figures host Q&As with the public
Reddit is also controversial:
- Reddit let’s individuals make editorial decisions with the most popular subreddits banning things like climate change denialism in the science subreddit and the politics subreddit banning many left-leaning and progressive publications
- It’s led to famous incidents of internet vigilantism, memorably a man-hunt for the wrong people after the Boston Marathon bombings
- It’s been the catalyst for conspiracy theories and violence, many of them from the alt-right, including pizzagate leading to a shooting and the Charlottesville car attack on a protest
Why is Reddit so popular
Curation has been the trend for a few years now, from Spotify to Netflix to social media feeds trying to figure out what you like, what you react to, and promote content based on that.
It’s no surprise when you curate the internet as a whole, you have an enjoyable experience, or at least the same dopamine-driven feedback loop that has become associated with social media.
As a study from Harvard found (http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/), the curated nature of social media, including Reddit, is the same as slot machines or cocaine. Every time you get an upvote on a post or comment or when there is a new post in subreddits you follow, it’s like matching 2 stars and a pineapple on the slot-machine: you get a few coins.
The anticipation for these small wins and releases of dopamine is why we scroll for hours and reach for our phones any time we risk a minute of boredom.
When Reddit becomes a problem
That last thing I do on Reddit, the mindless entertainment part, can and does easily become a problem. That’s when I fall into the casino/dopamine trap. Couple the random entertaining posts with the endless scrolling, it’s too easy to scroll for half an hour to an hour. Add the entertaining comments and the time doubles.
It’s also easy to avoid doing productive things or sometimes work and procrastinate by checking the popular section to see what’s been posted in the last hour so that I don’t miss anything new.
Sometimes it’s not even the entertainment value but more the crazy world events of the last few years that keep me going back every hour – what has Trump done, what new war has started, how bad is COVID today, etc.
Being too informed or having “media burnout”, a modern problem, is a common source of stress according to a Harvard School of Public Health survey. News uses to be slow and well written, now it’s constant and bite-size. It’s hard to unplug with the addiction-like nature of social media, including Reddit.
How I balance Reddit
As I’ve mentioned before in past episodes, I’m pretty self-conscious. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m disciplined or stubborn about what I left myself eat and do. I am the same way about my habits.
Since having kids 4 years ago, I’m even more aware of how I spend my free time because it’s so limited. Sometimes when I have free time, I get anxious because I don’t know what to do with it that’s most rewarding. I usually end up exercising and am able to watch Joe Rogan or some other podcast at the same time.
With Reddit, I am either purposefully looking up something, like how to fix my Cuisinart espresso maker, or scrolling the popular section to take a mental break. I have noticed that take more mental breaks than I need and procrastinate by going on Reddit.
The easiest way I’ve found to get out of procrastination is to do something active. It’s hard to hold a phone and scroll Reddit if I’m exercise, organize the shed, or go for a walk. If I can’t do something physical, then I try to find a book to read to focus my mind. I end up reading dozens of a books a year because I like reading but I also like avoiding Reddit.
It’s strange, isn’t it? It’s kind of like junk food – we look forward to it and enjoy it and then end up regretting it and telling ourselves we’ll make better choices. I see junk food and social media the same way.
The Secret is Systematic Thinking
There are so many things vying for our attention at all times, so much so that Apple and Android added notification blocking and snoozing to their phones as mental health measures.
From Instagram to Twitter to Reddit to email and chat apps, we’re constantly getting notifications begging for our attention. There’s also the multi-tasking trend of the last ten years of trying to get more done at once with our 2 or 3 monitors at work.
Four years ago, I got rid of all but one monitor at work. I’ve kept this up and have committed to one monitor at work and home. I’ve committed to focusing more, whether it’s putting my phone away when I’m with the kids, turning off notifications when I’m reading, or disabling Slack and work emails all together on my phone.
Besides focus, I have a simple trick I use to curb habits that may not be the best or too easy to abuse – I make it a little bit harder to access. I put junk food in the basement in the cold storage so that I’d have to go downstairs and in the corner of our basement. I turn off notifications for everything except text messages so that I have to actively open Instagram or Reddit to check for new content. I only watch “junk TV” when I exercise.
Reddit is tricky – there is genuinely interesting, informative, and educational content but I have to remember that it is still a social network designed to take as much of my time as it can. My time has become more scarce and I want to get the most I can from it. Sometimes that means locking my phone and recording a podcast about how I’ve wasted my time.