Thursday, November 29, 2012

"The importance of numbers is best seen in a street mob, which becomes more tumultuous, more passionate, more a creature of instinct and less a creature of reason, the larger it is. So, too, the reading mob, as it grows bigger, becomes more emotional, more excited, it reads and talks with greater avidity, is increasingly vehement in its likes, dislikes, and opinions, forces the book on its neighbors with greater rigor, buys, borrows, gives, and lends more and more with the swift and sure emotions of instinct. The reading mob is, perhaps, the largest species. The numbers who read the lower bourgeois novel are fabulous. Those who read the higher bourgeois novel are very numerous. In the meridian of its glory the mob novel soars up to several hundred thousands."

-Henry Dwight Sedgewick, "The Mob Spirit in Literature". The New American Type: And Other Essays. 1908.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Welcome to the Internet

In my classes and in assigned articles, it has occurred to me that many of my classmates are unaware of what Reddit actually is. It is often mentioned in the same sentence as StumbleUpon,, and Delicious. However Reddit is a beast of a completely different nature.

Remember BBS Boards? Remember IRC Chat? Remember the crazy range of topics, subjects, and interests those communications offered? Reddit is that - a massive online forum. Anything you want to talk about, learn about, or be trolled about, all in one place.

Reddit is the overlord forum, and within it are the aptly named "subreddits" - mini forums you can subscribe and contribute to. Each subreddit is formatted on Reddit thus: It is therefore pronounced "Arr-Funny". The '/' is silent. There are many subreddits - numerous subreddits, to be precise. Just like your old BBS forums, there may be a large amount of crossover between contributors, but by and large each one has a unique clientele and givers & takers. For example, r/TwoXChromosomes (TwoX, for short) is a subreddit almost primarily made of users who want to talk about women's issues. This subreddit is a place to talk about women's health issues, sexism, accomplishments, or questions about feminine life. It is not exclusively for women, but it is about women. There is the male counterpart, r/OneY, which is essentially the same, but about men. Lately it's been about No-Shave November. In contrast, r/askwomen or r/askmen are a place for women to ask men questions or vice versa. The four forums do have an overlap of themes and topics, but they are all indeed very separate and individual from each other.

Now that we've defined "subreddit" and taken a look at the community-centered subreddits, let's take a look at some of the popular subject-centered subreddits of Reddit. r/atheism may be the one that you encounter first, and it is precisely what you would assume: a subreddit about atheism. More precisely it seems to be subreddit about anti-theism, as most of the subject matter is not about philosophical atheism, science, or skepticism (r/skeptic is for that) but rather about how ridiculous religion 'X' is. On the other hand, r/Christianity is a sub made up of the many different denominations of Christianity are welcome. Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, Mennonite, and other denominations all have their own other subreddit, but this one is the umbrella community. For religious debate, r/debatereligion is one of the few places the r/atheism and r/Christianity overlap. It's also the place where other religions (r/Islam, r/Pagan, r/Hinduism, r/Judaism, and so on) meet to debate.

r/atheism and r/Christianity seem to have a sort of online quasi-war between the them, as they are both large communities and the two most prominent religio-centric subreddits. Both subreddits appears to think the other somewhat ridiculous and borderline offensive. This kind of rivalry is a good example how how fractured Reddit is in all its idealism. For all that it is a place of international free speech and shared waters it is also a place where small squabbles can become Montague and Capulet-scale feuds due to the anonymity of the Internet. Seeing a user's identity as a comment rather than their comment history or another human being can be harmful, and unfortunately it happens a lot on any online platform. Due to the magnitude and scale of Reddit, it's rampant. While hate-speech is cause for banning, being disrespectful and intolerant more or less gets you a slap on the wrist or a heap of 'downvotes' (which means that you didn't follow reddiquette or contribute something meaningful to the conversation).

Spend enough time on Reddit and you'll find memes and ragecomics. Memes are insubstantial concepts and stereotypes portrayed through pictures, typically the same pictured recycled with user-made captions to relay the same theme. The subreddit for most memes is r/AdviceAnimals. One of the more popular memes is Ridiculously Photogenic Guy:
Made by Redditor beardedbrad
It's a great way to show how people react to Ridiculously Photogenic People - all they have to do is walk into a room (or run a marathon) and have an immediate and hyperbolic event! Search on Reddit for "Ridiculously Photogenic Guy" and you'll find many meme photos with him as the subject. There are similarly memes like First World Problems, Overly Manly Man, Overly Attached Girlfriend, Good Guy Greg, and Scumbag Steve.

I would be greatly remiss if I did not mention the primary function of Reddit: Cat Propaganda. Everywhere on Reddit are pictures of cats. Kittens, sphinxes, tabbies, happy cats, grumpy cats, white cats, black cats, and every kind of cat in between. They are the secret overlords of Reddit, and they rule supreme. Cats have their own mythos in the world of LOLCats, having the benevolent Ceiling Cat (usually a white cat that sites in high places and gazes benevolently or in an accusatory manner at the photographer) and the evil Basement Cat (which steals socks and hides in cereal boxes). Cats may be affectionately referred to as 'Karma Machines' as posting a picture of your cat may earn you upvotes and increase your total karma score. Some cats have lived long enough to become memes, more recently as with Grumpy Cat:
As linked to by Redditor boyinice
This cat's real name is Tard (short for 'Tardar Sauce') and he has his own Tumblr.

There are many more memes, and more than I can put here on my blog without feeling like I'm sullying my webspace. Take some time to familiarize yourself with them, as they can be great to illustrate a point in PowerPoints and Keynotes while adding a bit of spice and humor.

I hope you learned something about Reddit. May your forays be cautious and tiptoey. If you are unsure where to begin, I recommend you begin in r/funny, r/bestof, or r/trueReddit. Stay out of r/circlejerks, r/spacedicks, and r/wtf. You notice I didn't provide links, so I'm serious... beware of those subreddits. r/trees is not about the environment (hint: it's about marijuana). Don't click on anything that says NSFL (Not Safe For Life). Good luck.