Reddit's role in measuring the cultural temperature
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin spent six years writing the definitive history of Reddit.
- Senior Inc. writer Christine Lagorio-Chafkin has published We Are The Nerds, the definitive history of Reddit.
- The website has been at the center of First Amendment battles for years.
- In many ways, the culture is measured through discussions occurring on Reddit.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can last months, or years, or a lifetime, especially if that lifetime is cut short by suicide. The most common reasons include war, sexual abuse, assault, and accidents. The National Center for PTSD estimates that 7 to 8 out of every 100 people will experience it at some point in their lives.
Why some people are susceptible to PTSD and others come through traumatic experiences relatively unscathed is, in part, a matter of biology. Pinpointing an exact neurochemical cocktail leading to this disorder might take a while, if ever, to discover. Understanding physiology is only one step; therapy follows. Yet that too might not be enough. Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk phrases it this way:
The act of telling the story doesn't necessarily alter the automatic physical and hormonal responses of bodies that remain hypervigilant, prepared to be assaulted or violated at any time. For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.
The unimaginable horrors of desert combat, child abuse, and rape are understandable mechanisms for triggering PTSD. These are the often the first images to mind when trying to empathize with victims. In popular culture, it is the army veteran or the abused woman going through such ordeals.
How about a CEO trying to migrate his entire San Francisco company to Daly City so he has a shorter commute in his Tesla each morning? Not exactly the picture of suffering. And yet, by the time you read former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong's meltdown 300 pages into Christine Lagorio-Chafkin's new book, We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet's Culture Laboratory, it's hard not to empathize.
It wasn't only Wong who was suffering. Reddit has long been considered one of the darker corners on the mainstream Internet, second perhaps only to 4chan in its widespread dissemination of disturbing content. As Lagorio-Chafkin, a senior Inc. writer who spent six years working on this exhaustive history, tells it,
Exposure to graphic messages, abrupt and out-of-context threats, and extremist viewpoints has plagued generations of Reddit employees. To the designated community team, it was staring at violent images, racist words, and sussing out what precisely constituted child pornography. It was the work of reporting bomb threats, possible suicide attempts, and illegal images of underage girls and boys to investigators. It was hearing the voices through the phone of young women whose jilted ex-lovers had posted pornographic images of them online, women violated and terrified about their futures.
Wong's tenure was short. Others have emerged out of the chaos, though how well is up for debate. We Are the Nerds predominately focuses on co-founders Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman, as well as early employees Chris Slowe and Aaron Swartz, the latter whose suffering did in fact lead to suicide. If you want a deep dive into what made Reddit one of the most popular websites in the world, you'll find it here.
Ohanian and Huffman met while freshmen at the University of Virginia. The two bonded over a shared passion for gaming and tech. Huffman, the coder, and Ohanian, the salesman, moved into an apartment together during their junior year. They both launched a number of projects and shared war stories from internships. But it was a meeting with computer scientist Paul Graham, one of the minds behind Lisp, that set them on their course.
The duo traveled to Cambridge to pitch MMM, a cell phone-based restaurant delivery service idea they'd concocted—how quaint a notion in 2004! Graham was launching a micro-funding tech think tank, Y Combinator, and was interested in having this duo in the pilot program. Incredibly, he rejected their proposal, yet had a change of heart; his phone call landed when they were halfway back to Virginia on the train. They hopped off at the next stop and crossed the platform to head north again.
MMM didn't last and the duo wasn't aware of Digg, but they were interested in a site that would become "the front page of the Internet." Graham was interested in a more robust version of del.icio.us, but the site featured longer articles and journals. This was not do for in a society whose attention span was being halved by the day. It took a while to land on a name—Breadpig was the frontrunner, while poplex and aggpop were contenders—but on a whim Ohanian bought Reddit.com, a play on "read it." Even today, Graham doesn't think it's a very good name.
Lagorio-Chafkin's history is detailed, but I'm mostly fascinated by the stories within the larger story: the unmasking of Violentacrez, a somewhat respected moderator who also ran a subreddit on "jailbait" (among many other questionable topics) and what that says about freedom of speech versus freedom of anonymity; Reddit's role in disseminating nude celebrity photos after an iCloud breach; the false identification of two men at the tragic Boston Marathon; a Reddit post that led to 2010's "Gathering to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," led by Stephen Colbert and John Stewart; Barack Obama jumping on to the most famous subreddit, Ask Me Anything, to directly engage with the public in 2012.
In many ways, Reddit has provided the cultural temperature more than any other site. In 2017, Huffman remarked that Trump's ascendency to the presidency was not a surprise, given the activity on one of the site's most notorious channels, r/The_Donald. Tech giants like Facebook, Apple, and Google have been under constant scrutiny for questionable security, privacy, and marketing practices. The content on Reddit has been questionable since day one, yet the site has escaped the broader scrutiny these other companies have had to endure.
Not that the site has been without its share of controversies. In fact, one could argue they lead in that category: questionable kidney donations, a celebrated and well-educated feminist taking over the reigns only to be petitioned out of her role, internal battles waged by ardent Trump supporters, banning alt-right activity, the hiding of Russian troll interference. Reddit is the true ground zero for free speech battles, as well as bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia.
Which is what happens when the journey from prefrontal cortex to eyeballs is mediated by the screen instead of transmitted in person. It's easy to blather at a screen; not so much in the presence of others. There is little accountability, not sense of agency on message boards, which causes us to forget real humans read the disgusting and profane content put forward over the years. As Lagorio-Chafkin writes,
The very concepts that made it possible for Reddit to become home to thousands of open, brutally honest, ingenuity-dappled forums that felt so much more genuine than the rest of the airbrushed-and-Photoshopped Internet had allowed users to hide behind u/names and cartoon alien avatars to say and do terrible things to one another. The real humans interacting there still had bodies, and those bodies—their colors, their shapes, their quirks—were fodder for abuse, hatred, and harassment.
Yet, though it all, Reddit is by some measures the true voice of the people. Democracy is messy; humans aren't perfect. This isn't to condone egregious behavior: death threats and child porn have no place anywhere, period. Xenophobia and racism exist, but we don't have to give it a platform—and no, denying them access does not equate to censorship, but an attempt to maintain the bare minimum sense of dignity. Civil rights were not supported by a majority of Americans in the early sixties. Sometimes you have to move ahead despite popular sentiment.
The most inspired moments in Lagorio-Chafkin's book happen when Redditors leave their digital lairs to commune in person. Online communities are benign; the intent makes the collection. By diving into the history of this incredible project, those people come alive. We Are the Nerds is an important reminder that the voice on the screen and the one infiltrating your ears are not necessarily the same. We need to grapple with both in the digital age. Sure, the shadows of Reddit are often most discussed by the media, but Lagorio-Chafkin does a wonderful job at humanizing the people behind the technology.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.
- Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
- The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
- The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Vanchurin interview:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="539759cbfd8fcd5b6ebf14a3b597b3f9"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bmyRy2-UhEE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Vanchurin on “Hidden Phenomena”:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="18886ffd5e5840bb19d4494212f88d82"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2NDVdNwsHCo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>Vitaly Vanchurin speaking at the 6th International FQXi Conference, "Mind Matters: Intelligence and Agency in the Physical World." The Foundational Questions...
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