Staticwave Moving yet staying in the same place

The Two Cultures (of Reddit)

The two cultures is an influential 1959 book discussing the rift between the humanities and the sciences, how they talk differently, how they hold different values and how they rarely interact. I don't suppose to have something new to say about this philosophical and cultural discourse, but I'll happily steal the title to discuss an organization with a Jekyll and Hyde culture, Reddit.

Reddit, as its byline claims is "the front page of the Internet." Functionally, its a hybrid link-sharing and discussion board system. Reddit's main innovation was the introduction of the upvote/downvote system, "democratizing" both the popularity of links, and the comments on those links. These links can be posted in user-created and moderated topic-centric "subreddits" which develop their own rules, discourse and cultures.

The First Culture

When a random Internet denizen navigates to Reddit, what do they see? They see what are called the default subreddits. These subreddits are selected by the Reddit administrators through an internal process, occasionally, they explain their choices on their admin blog. These default subreddits receive massive traffic as do the links that are posted there. These subreddits are also the default subscriptions for new users.

So what are the default subreddits as of this writing?

/r/announcements /r/Art /r/AskReddit
/r/askscience /r/aww /r/blog
/r/books /r/creepy /r/dataisbeautiful
/r/DIY /r/Documentaries /r/EarthPorn
/r/explainlikeimfive /r/Fitness /r/food
/r/funny /r/Futurology /r/gadgets
/r/gaming /r/GetMotivated /r/gifs
/r/history /r/IAmA /r/InternetIsBeautiful
/r/Jokes /r/LifeProTips /r/listentothis
/r/mildlyinteresting /r/movies /r/Music
/r/news /r/nosleep /r/nottheonion
/r/oldschoolcool /r/personalfinance /r/philosophy
/r/photoshopbattles /r/pics /r/science
/r/Showerthoughts /r/space /r/sports
/r/television /r/tifu /r/todayilearned
/r/TwoXChromosomes /r/UpliftingNews /r/videos
/r/worldnews /r/writingprompts

Source: What's that, Lassie? The old defaults fell down a well?

There are few gems in the list but the majority of the listed defaults are one might call "meme culture" material. Funny pictures, animal pictures and other material that used to be shared via email forwards and on Facebook walls. Most disappointingly, posts with funny or "interesitng" pictures receive many more upvotes than other posts, which means that according to Reddit's algorithm, the default sorting will be dominated by these posts. These posts also receive far more traffic to their comments sections, resulting in trolling, junk posts and tangent arguments about content. One non-Redditor even commented to me that Reddit was "just like 4chan."

The other issue with the public face of Reddit is when the media comes calling. Reddit's open nature of hosting many communities for free under it's roof brings scrutiny when these communities veer into areas where the general public perceives as illegal or immoral. This has shown up in the /r/thefappening (most recently) as well as the /r/jailbait blow-up that happened a few years ago. These moral panics have resulted in the media reporting Reddit as a "wretched hive of scum an villainy." Reddit admins have tried their best to support free speech where these activities are legal but morally questionable, but with the increasing size, money, and media coverage, they have begun to ban subreddits more quickly. People who have never even visited Reddit get their ideas from the media, and so to some, it has a very bad reputation.

The Other Culture

Outside the default subreddits, the Reddit front page becomes a very different place. There are many strongly moderated subreddits discussing science, media, electronics, fitness and a myriad of other broad and narrow topics. These subreddits have in many cases thousands of members who are dedicated, helpful and deeply interested in their topic. Whatever you may be interested in, you can find an engaged and active community posting links and commenting. The activity happening today in subreddits is the natural evolution of the BBS and forum systems where small communities geek out on their topic of choice.

For people who haven't used Reddit before, I'm going to offer some recommendations of subreddits that demonstrate has good Reddit can be. These will fall into a couple of categories, based on what I have found valuable.

What Reddit used to be

Back when I joined Reddit, the defaults were very different. There was a much larger proportion of links to longer form news stories, investigative journalism, opinion pieces and articles on science. In the spirit of how Reddit once was, a number of subreddits have attempted to recreate this, through strong moderation and an involved commmunity. Here is a selection of ones I enjoy:

Interesting Conversations

One thing that didn't exist back when I joined Reddit were any vibrant "topic-focused" discussions. Such discussion subreddits couldn't really exist until the Reddit reached a critical mass of members. There are a number which have popped up in the last few years which have some really interesting spins attempts to generate discussion.

Domain Specific Communities

Reddit's subreddit system allows people interested in specific things to discuss and share links, here are a few that I subscribe to. Obviously this is more a reflection of what I'm interested in, you should search Reddit for what you like.

Self Improvement

One of the most helpful things I've found on Reddit is the communities centered on self-improvement. People geek out on clothes, hair, organization, and a myriad of other helpful topics. The posts I've read on these subreddits have helped me to be more productive, dress better, and be a better person in general. Why would I do this? See my post on Kaizen.

Final Thoughts

Reddit, if you're not careful, can eat a significant amount of your time. The stream of constant new posts can have an addictive quality to it. If you curate your Reddit to be full of thoughtful articles and useful information, instead of clickbait and cat pictures, at least that addictive nature can benefit you.


During my parent's generation products from Japan were considered to be of poor quality, similar to how many products from China are viewed today. Japanese cars were cheap and unreliable compared to the stalwart American auto industry. Today, Japanese cars are more popular and reliable than American made (especially in view of the recent massive recalls by GM). Japan is viewed as a gleaming high tech economy.

How did this come about? What changed? Was there a revolution in manufacturing? Did the Japanese copy the best features of the American manufacturing machine?

It was Kaizen.

The literal translation of kai-zen is change-good, a better meaningful translation is continuous or continual improvement. The Kaizen process focuses on reflection, reduction and elimination of suboptimal processes and incremental steps rather than giant leaps. The application of Kaizen to Japanese industry transformed from the cheap knock-off manufacturer to a world leader.

Continual Improvement

Why am I writing about Kaizen? Because I don't see any distinction between performance of a manufacturing process and the performance of my life. I see my life as something that I can always improve upon. This is for two reasons. One, is pride, I want to be good at what I do, regardless of what it is. Sometimes this pride isn't beneficial, I get angry when I'm bad at things especially when I've been putting a consistent effort, this has reared it's head particularly during team sport, which is probably the worst place. The second reason is that small continuous improvements compound going forward, a small improvement on an everyday act adds up day after day.

Where can you apply continual improvement? Think about the places in your life where you can make small beneficial changes. Here are but a few things that come to mind:

  • Spending -- could you be paying less for the same or better products?
  • Finances -- do you have loans you could consolidate into one? money in a chequing account you could invest?
  • Fitness -- being strong makes life easier, continuous improvement is the cornerstone of a strength training program
  • Fitness -- you never know when you need to run for the bus or the elevator, don't be wheezing sweaty guy when you do
  • Sleep -- how much sleep are you getting? what is its quality? what is your wakeup routine?
  • Diet -- could you cut down on your sugar and white flour? are you getting enough protein?
  • Organization -- do you know all the things you need to do? who has borrowed your things? who is doing things for you?
  • Introspection -- how do you handle setbacks and problems? when you get stressed do you realize it? can you fix it?

Some of places I'm well on my continual improvement path, others I'm just starting, and still others I haven't begun. In future writing I hope to describe what's worked for me, what hasn't and what I'm working on with Kaizen.

Do you have other places where Kaizen will work, do you have topics you'd like me to cover, email me

Writing is hard

Reading is what I do. I tear through webpages, books, textbooks and to a lesser extent novels. This propensity for reading is an issue when I need to move, as I recently did for a new job in Montreal (more on that later). I have written a fair bit too, but always as an academic. Lab reports, project reports, manuscripts and theses, these are all technical documents, they have a specific style and their content is determined by the scientific discovery they attempt to describe.

Other than email messages and IMs, I can't remember the last time I wrote something that wasn't purely technical. I have thought about writing a blog before, I have ideas which I want to explore, but it always seems so daunting because I look at it as a research project with references to find and more things to read. With my recent change of pace, I've had a chance to think about things I want to do, what I want to learn, and what I want to work on. Writing has risen to the top of the non-work list so here is my start to it.

Maybe you know me, if you do, you'll recognize the arguments we've had over coffee on so many topics. If you don't, perhaps this will encourage you to seek me out to have those arguments over coffee, or perhaps to avoid me altogether. Who knows. Either way, welcome.