I lied. This post is not actually about Reddit. However the role Reddit plays in my life exemplifies a type of behavior I am minimizing: consuming without a goal. Reddit is my starting point and I’ll generalize from there. Please understand that I am not disparaging Reddit as a whole – I am making a statement about my own behavior when using Reddit.
When I say consuming without a goal I mean absorbing a lot of information with little to no reward besides the base stimulation that seeing lots of new comments, images, and links offers. This type of stimulation results in a lot of short-term gratification but yields little benefit in the long run.
As I write this currently the top 3 posts on Reddit (based on default subreddits without logging on) are:
- Swedish justice minister falls for Daily Currant spoof story on marijuana deaths, calling incident “stupid and sad”
- number 1 rule at a party : DON’T FALL ASLEEP FIRST!!
- What do you see on tv all the time that never actually happens in everyday life?
While there are more focused and useful subreddits (a better-known one that comes to mind is /r/AskHistorians) these three links are a good sample of what I encounter most often. There are lots of links to news articles that I am personally not involved with, random comical things happening in other people’s lives that I don’t care about, and possibly interesting discussions that don’t really make my life better.
Even when I tailor the subreddits to my tastes with subscriptions to /r/engineering, for example, the basic content does not change. /r/engineering often has the same type of content I find uninteresting except with a different coat of paint. And I would argue that the more banal, asinine, or irrelevant content is more addictive.
This sort of content and gratification-seeking behavior on Reddit is the root of this post today. I want to avoid behavior that does not lead to a happier life. Looking at memes/image macros, following pun threads in comments, and being bombarded by a seemingly random collection of information is not helping me be happier.
Other examples from my personal life would be letting myself get caught up watching a TV show that I don’t really enjoy but sit down and watch anyway because it happens to be on.
That’s not to say avoid TV altogether! There are shows that stimulate the imagination I whole-heartedly recommend and documentaries can be a good source of TV that is beneficial.
The key is to have a goal.
It doesn’t have to be a grandiose goal like changing the world. Those types of goals are usually too taxing for their own good anyway because of the scope. I prefer to work with personal, quantifiable, and achievable goals that can build momentum into a massive shift.
Spending time with friends and loved ones, for example, is a wonderful goal. I don’t suggest watching Judge Judy on your own (I use this example because it’s a guilty pleasure of mine) but if you’re sitting with friends and able to bond over it – either because you are enjoying it or because you’re making fun of it (I’ve been known to do both) then you are working on something that leads to long-term benefits.
A clearly superior use of my Reddit time is to improve my skills. I don’t mean random skills that don’t help me with anything. I can learn how to build a website but does that do anything for me as an engineer? Not immediately and without a clear reason for requiring a website that skill is just another project waiting to cause stress and disappointment by not being completed. On the other hand I can review my textbooks and hone my math skills, both of which have direct benefits to my job and to my mental well-being. Plus the better I get with engineering concepts the more likely I am to be able to innovate.
Instead of being on Reddit, even if it was only a “quick” Reddit break, I could have cleaned my apartment. I get stressed when my apartment is messy in any way so the cleaning option is obviously better but it is not instant gratification like Reddit is. But that’s my point – the extra willpower and discipline to clean is tough but improves my happiness while Reddit does not.
Just so we are perfectly clear I’m not saying Reddit is bad. I’m saying my use of Reddit is a waste of time. There are certainly plenty of folk who use Reddit productively as a tool for communication, collaboration, development, marketing, or any number of other things. (Though for every one of those people there are 100 more using Reddit for puns and image macros.) There are plenty of other behaviors for me that fall into the same waste of time: playing games on my smartphone, procrastinating, sitting around doing nothing, and more.
My point in all this is that I want to be more selective with how I spend my time so that I can be true to my personal motto: Live deliberately.