Depths of the Internet displayed on Reddit

Aaron West

[Updated on 12/07/2011 at 12:12p.m., minor copy edits]

Editor's Note: The Life & Arts senior staff combed through this year’s pop culture and selected the artists, albums, books and movements that they think, in one way or another, helped define 2011. This is the second in a two-day series.

2011 is the year that I almost didn’t graduate because I was on Reddit too much. I’m still trying to decide if it was worth it (I’ll know for sure when my diploma is mailed to me, or when it isn’t). Some might argue that my time spent on Reddit was actually worthless, but to those people I have only one question: “What is the intrinsic value of a video that features an inebriated German guy harmlessly poking a policeman in the back with a dildo?” (Check the bottom of the article for the answer.)

Anyhow, beware, innocent cyber-traveller! In times of deep procrastination-induced delirium, you too might find yourself clicking around Reddit for hours and muttering that question and others like it to yourself (not too loud, though — what if someone heard you and thought you were weird?). And if that situation should ever befall you, just remember that /r/woahdude is the only subreddit where a homemade, leotard-heavy musical tribute to a Christmas kitten and a video that ponders the beginning of infinity can exist in Internet harmony.

For those who are woefully but productively uninitiated, Reddit is a content-sharing site (the 53rd most popular website in the U.S. — right after that brands itself as “the front page of the Internet.” It’s divided into smaller communities called “subreddits” which can be created by anyone, focus on almost anything and operate under whichever rules the subreddit-creator chooses. It all gives Reddit a very loose, Wild West sort of feel that can be liberating and overwhelming at the same time.

Registered users, who are called “redditors,” submit posts and links that other redditors comment on, sometimes quite hilariously, sometimes not. Redditors can then vote submissions and comments up or down, which dictates their rank and where it appears on the site’s pages. There are more than 90,000 subreddits, some with more than half a million readers (/r/politics), some with as little as 34 (/r/AustinDiscGolf). The subreddits cover a seemingly endless smorgasbord of subjects that can end up taking you down Internet wormholes you might regret getting sucked into (the “Not Safe For Life” tag that adorns some of the freakier stuff can be a useful guide to not getting a face full of, for example, a picture of a slack-jawed lady breastfeeding a chimpanzee — unless that’s exactly what you were hoping to see, of course).

Need relationship advice? There’s a subreddit for that. Interested in DIY projects? Check out /r/homebrew. Want erotic pictures of minors, fully clothed and in provocative poses? Talk to Anderson Cooper — his buzzed-about investigation of /r/jailbait led to its removal by Reddit.

Whatever you’re into, there’s most likely a subreddit for it, and if there’s not, then you can make it. It’s the American dream — with way more pictures of hairless, blind, skin-diseased dogs than the Founding Fathers probably intended.

Social news sites that allow users to vote democratically on the content aren’t a new thing. Digg, Fark and Metafilter, to name a few, have all been around for years. What makes Reddit a true 2011 phenomenon is its recent tremendous growth (Reddit recorded 1.6 billion page views per month recently — about four times the traffic the site received last May), and with that growth, the site’s influence on current events has grown as well. When redditors aren’t submitting photos of masked women wearing full-body pepperoni pizza costumes in /r/wtf, asking celebrities like Zach Braff questions in /r/iama and commenting on riveting science inquiries like “why can’t you burp or cry in outer space?” in /r/askscience, they might be serving up a heaping, controversial helping of Internet vigilantism.

In October, for example, 23-year-old Hillary Adams of Corpus Christi uploaded a video she had recorded six years earlier of her father William Adams, a judge in Aransas County, verbally and physically abusing her. When she submitted the video on Reddit, it was upvoted to the front page and viewed thousands of times — all within several hours of its being posted. A redditor soon discovered Adams’ personal information and he began receiving calls, e-mails and pizza deliveries, courtesy of redditors from around the world. Local and national media caught wind of the events and several hundred articles and one Anderson Cooper interview later, Adams was suspended from the bench. Behold the power of millions of 25- to 44-year-old middle class men (Reddit’s leading demographic, according to recent surveys) who are browsing Reddit instead of working.

Reddit encompasses too much information (i.e., the entire Internet) to be contained in one little cultural essay.

Regardless, it’s a site worth checking out for yourself, if not for the unedited avalanche of news, opinions, ideas and general bizarreness, than at least for the opportunity to set your friends’ homepage to /r/spacedicks (that isn’t a recommendation). Browse at your own risk, however, lest you end up abandoning productivity while incoherently questioning the value of videos of German cops being drunkenly tickled with sex toys. In the interest of saving you from yourself, I’ll answer that question for you: It’s totally worth it, especially around the 35 second mark.