Let me start by saying that Reddit can and will destroy your life. It will steal you from friends, cause you to neglect your cats and force you to forget the faces of family members. You will sit idly as your lucky bamboo plant dies of starvation whilst you watch the actual Arnold Schwarzenegger get into a comment fight with a personal trainer from Peoria, Ill., over proper deadlift form. You will leave Facebook behind and you will not care. Your loved ones will text you asking if you are OK, and you will forget to respond. Your mom will cry.
However, I’m certain that the good people who founded Reddit nearly a decade ago didn’t intend on turning you into a desk-dwelling mole person. Rather, the site can be outright overwhelming in its incredible categorization and documentation of human creativity and innovation.
Besides being the closest thing humanity has to digital heroin, Reddit is a community where users can submit links or original content, and the public can then vote it “up” or “down” depending on the post’s merit. Reblogging or sharing posts is seriously looked down upon, which comes as a welcome change in the oft-redundant social media-o-sphere. “Redditors” are creators unto themselves and, as such, skew heavily toward tech-obsessed university students and nerdy college graduates aged 25 to 34. This is the site’s greatest strength, as it grants online discussions and posts a level of intellectual merit seemingly absent from, well, the rest of the entire Internet. The 14-year-old YouTube users whose sole purpose in life appear to be making racist comments about the Illuminati on old Weezer videos are deleted – and deleted quickly.
Instead, you will find that Reddit users are just like your Facebook friends and Twitter followers, except significantly more interesting on every conceivable level. Despite being a thriving community of people from all over the globe, Redditors find ways to come together in support of do-it-yourself projects, political freedom, self-improvement advice, celebrity interviews, useless trivia and various photographs of baby sloths and pit bull puppies. They’ve had a hand in creating every Internet meme that ever was or ever will be. If you’ve laughed at a .GIF of someone skiing sternum-first into a wall made of glass and Chinese fireworks in the past month, it’s more than likely that a Redditor created it two years ago and you’re just arriving late to the game.
As testament to the addictive power of Reddit, here are three stories that broke – unrelated – within 72 hours of each other on the front page of the site. On April 9, a few daring users tracked down a man who admitted that he killed his sister’s meth-addicted boyfriend and framed it as an accidental overdose. The next day, a father posted photos of the spaceship-themed playhouse – complete with a working escape hatch, navigation screen and dashboard lights – that he built for his infant son in the hopes that it fosters a lifelong love for science in his child. As I write, master comedian Louis C.K. is answering user questions, and just told the world that lately he’s been making rice and beans for his children too often. Any of these stories could have made for an exposé hosted by Brian Williams, and yet they came and went within days of each other without so much as a corresponding BuzzFeed article in their name.
For comparison purposes, my friends on Twitter were just treated to a “throwback” photo a friend of mine posted reminding all of her Twitter followers that – at one point in her life – she was in a room that had a whole lot of cardboard boxes in it.
Since the site was founded in 2005, absolutely zero of this is pressing news. That being said, I’m stunned at how many students I meet have yet to hop onto the Reddit bandwagon. Temple prides itself on living at the very edge of burgeoning media technology, and yet I’ve met countless human beings around Main Campus who simply don’t understand what the site is or how it works. Jump onto the site, click through some links, make a free account and mosey around at your leisure. Whether your main area of expertise is deep sea oceanography, reenacting scenes from John Woo’s “Face/Off” or Photoshopping Optimus Prime into pictures of famous battles throughout history, you’ll find a community of like-minded people beckoning you to join them with open arms. The site is full of near-magical occurrences, like the real William Shatner occasionally dropping by to comment on a Star Trek discussion, or Warner Bros. stumbling upon a fake movie pitch co-written for fun by site users and offering to purchase it.
Reddit exists as a thriving community of anonymous people united in the perpetual hunt for human knowledge. The size of the community eclipses nearly anything that I’ve come across on the Internet to date, and the indescribably vast amount of information included on the site can make the entire universe seem massive and miniscule at the exact same time. On a bad day, you’ll feel as if every single thought and conversation that you’ve ever had or will ever have has been written down and cataloged already by someone sitting on a public computer halfway around the world in Botswana.
On a good day, however, you’ll be blown back in awe at the absolute, unstoppable force that is human creation.
Jerry Iannelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jerryiannelli.