Monday, March 26, 2012

Why You Should Quit Reddit (and other internet forums)

Popular social news website is a hub for links, information, and discussion that determines millions of people's daily experience of the internet. I began using Reddit in 2007 after being introduced to it by a friend. I was going through a particularly dependent phase of my life in which I was masking my biggest problems with all manner of distractions - marijuana and the internet being the two most prominent. It's no surprise, then, that I took to Reddit more or less instantaneously.

I was drawn in by Reddit's interesting links, sensational political messages, and instant response discussions. As the site evolved and became more sophisticated, subreddits devoted to increasingly specific topics took shape. It became easier to congregrate with (kind of) like-minded people. It wasn't necessarity the quality of the content that kept me engaged and coming back as much as the rapid-fire discussion and the highly effective boredom killing and procrastination that Reddit's constant link clicking provided.

I never read anything on Reddit that had a lasting impact on my life (except that one comment in that one thread that told me to push the tab of my pants zipper down to keep them from unzipping. That saved me from throuwing out an 80 dollar pair of jeans). There were many instances of 'huh, that's interesting', and 'how could he say that!', but overall, the whole experience felt very empty and lacking.

The much more tangible consequences of my frequent use of Reddit led to a cyclical feeling of guilt whenever I logged on. I would think 'yep, I'm destroying my attention span right now' because of the instantly gratifying nature of the site , or 'yep, I could be actually doing something productive right now'. Incessant link-clicking also destroyed my attention span, and I found myself unable to complete simple tasks away from my computer (picture yourself pacing around your room with one sock on, throwing things around trying to uncover the pen or other stupid object that you absent-mindedly misplaced).

I was miraculously able to break this cycle for a while by forcing myself to get busy with real-world pursuits, but returned to Reddit after realizing that Reddit could be a potentially valuable tool to promote myself. After I became more serious about my music, I began posing my work on Reddit's r/WeAreTheMusicMakers and r/ThisIsOurMusic subreddits. I gained a few fans that way, but I eventually realized that it was an inferior method of promoting my music in the larger picture. Additionally, most of the other music that users submitted was not nearly as good as what I could see by simply going out to one of my favorite neighborhood venues on any night of the week. There, I get the added benefit of networking with real, active local musicians.

People's tastes on the music forums also ran in a singular, homogenized (and questionable, to someone who has spent several years entrenched in the East Coast indie rock business) direction. This was symptomatic of a larger problem that spanned the entire site, something that 'Redditors' (that's what active users of the site call themselves. I was never comfortable using that word even though I probably fit that description) call the 'hive mind'.

Among the many problems with the Reddit hive mind is the predominant site-wide mentality that it cultivates. Reddit is primarily populated by introverted, American and European male teenagers and college students. This fosters a sitewide culture that is predominantly politically left-leaning, atheist, and misogynist. Being an apolitical spiritual female, this culture didn't really jive with me. Users will fervently downvote views that deviate from the accepted views of the predominant established culture.

Furthermore, Reddit users invest an unhealhty amount of their identities in simply being users of the site. Wow, you're a lonely comp-sci major who spends his free time browsing a large internet forum and reading memes? You are SO COOL! Tell me all about yourself! I think this ties into a larger social problem of deriving our identities by what we consume instead of what we produce, but that's a topic for another day.

I finally left Reddit after four and a half years of on-and-off use. I've deleted all of my accounts and blocked the website from my browser. I'm a few months in, and I have to say that it really has made an enormous difference in my attention span, productivity, and outlook on life. I find myself spending less time on the internet overall - in other words, quitting Reddit helped me to drop the other pointless things I was doing on the internet. I will always regret wasting countless thousands of hours on Reddit that I could have put into more meaningful activities that actually brought me closer to my dreams and goals.

In the first week, I found myself wanting to go onto an internet forum and talk about how I had just quit Reddit. Aside from realizing that doing so would only propagate my problem elsewhere, those moments gave me a new insight into the nature of my habit and what exactly it was that drew me into Reddit and internet forums in general. Participating in a forum made me feel like I had someone to talk to any time. I realized that this was a poor substitute for actually going out into the real world and talking to people face-to-face. Further, freeing up the time I spent on Reddit could help me actually work toward the life I talked about having on Reddit.

A few months into being free from Reddit and other internet forums, I've noticed many positive changes. My overall mood and outlook on life is better (largely because I am not paying any attention to news or politics). My attention span is much improved. I no longer drop simple tasks in the middle of doing them. It is much harder to distract me. My existing friendships have improved. I go out more, and as a result have been meeting more people, including several more-than-friends. I am much more productive and my time management has improved.

It's truly mind-blowing how many means and ways there are for people to waste their time and energy with technology. In my mind, Reddit and internet forums are just a notch above TV and video games in terms of how much value they provide to the user (that is, not a lot at all). If you are really serious about getting productive, cut these things out of your life.