All Redditors are equal, but some Redditors are more equal than others.
I never thought I would have a post go viral on Reddit. But I did. And yet not in the way you might think.
11 months ago I decided to post something on the subreddit Shower Thoughts. It was: 5 is the most even odd number. It kind of is, right? Some people agreed (okay, only a handful) and some people commented with their thoughts. But all in all, the post disappeared into the black void of the internet.
Fast forward to present day. I log into Reddit and at the top of my feed with 50k upvotes… There is my post. I couldn’t believe my eyes. If you’ve seen a ghost, maybe you could grasp what I felt in that moment [this is truly a ghastly joke]. It didn’t take long for me to realize that 5 is like an honorary even number wasn’t my post. And so I was left to wonder… essentially the same post on the same subreddit: one retired to a dark corner of the forgotten internet, and the other went viral [top posts on Shower Thoughts are usually around a few thousand upvotes].
Before we proceed, I want to ask you a question. Put yourself in my shoes. You have just seen a near-identical copy of your post go viral on Reddit. Obviously, a viral post isn’t winning the lottery… but hey, having a fleeting moment in the spotlight of the internet is still something, isn’t it? I want you to take a moment to think. How would’ve you reacted?
Okay! Enough about you… [drum roll please] My reaction went as follows:
I could not stop laughing. I could not stop smiling. It honestly brightened my whole morning. It made me so damn happy that I wanted to write a f**king article about it.
Seeing that post up the top of my Reddit feed and my subsequent (perhaps, bizarre) reaction took me down a rabbit hole of thoughts on virality and how we can value our content online.
A question… Why did this post (and its virality) make me so happy? I think no doubt there was an element of laughing at the absurdity of it all. The fact that there could be such a disparity in results, even though we were supposed to be on an even playing field. But that doesn’t fully capture it.
I will use the [entirely-made-up-by-me] term ghost virality to explain my reaction. I realized that I had created something that could have been viral. I think we can all agree that it wasn’t the wording that separated these two posts; and so, the intrinsic value of my post was equal to the viral post. It achieved ghost virality: a virality that could (and perhaps, should) have been, but was nonetheless brought to an early death due to circumstances (independent of the content itself). There was no doubt in my mind: my post was good, even though it had not achieved popularity (i.e. recognition for its value).
I should make my case why I believe that popularity validates the goodness of content. All you need to do is assume that everybody (to some degree) values their time. Time is a finite resource and therefore people (aware of this fact) will naturally allocate it to consuming media that adds value to their lives. Sure, everyone knows that you have great taste in art, but at the end of the day, your taste pales in comparison to the logic of countless people freely choosing to spend their finite resource on a piece of media.
Even so, it all left a bad taste in my mouth [okay, not really, I just wanted to make a bad pun]. I needed a better answer. Perhaps ghost virality was plaguing countless more online creators… and their content was dying without them realizing its value. In my case, the two posts were basically identical (so it was easy to recognize the equal value). But in most cases (particularly in creative fields), there is no standard measure to compare content, besides the metric of popularity. But simply counting the number of upvotes to determine value is flawed, because as in the case of my post, your creation can so easily fall through the net and become lost in the endless ocean of the internet.
At this intersection in my train of thought, I remembered the fact that even the small number of comments on my post made me happy, knowing that some people had decided to spend their time and contribute to the conversation I had started. And then, I knew I had the answer.
The internet is a wonderful place because it has everything. It has a lot of everything. No matter your taste, there will always be something entertaining for you to watch, something interesting for you to read, something engaging for you to listen to. Humor me here with this metaphor … You are on a beach. You can lounge around all day on that comfortable beach, never needing to worry that the ocean will run out of waves to wash up on the shore (i.e. content recommendations/trending). But if you remain on that comfortable beach, you will never see the whole ocean and all the wonders of the deep. There is an ocean of content on the internet doomed to be forgotten. Well, that’s not entirely true: forgotten by 99.9% of people; remembered by a few.
I’ll share an example from my own life. I was googling my own podcast [yeah, I have a podcast] and I happened to espy one with a similar name. I thought what the hell and gave it a try. It is now one of my favorite historical podcasts. Aware that I had stumbled across this podcast due to exceptional and rare circumstances, I was curious to take a look at their SoundCloud profile (Counterfactual: History, Reimagined). When I did this, I found they only had 4 listens.
I imagined myself looking at that measly metric and having no faith in the value of my creation. And yet what that statistic didn’t (couldn’t) tell you is that I was on the other end, freely giving up my finite resource to listen to something I deeply valued.
As a creator, I am guilty of looking at the stats and forgetting that on the other end, there are people, giving up their time to listen to my podcast. Instead of individuals, we see numbers and graphs, framed only by their upward trend to virality. We believe that that is where the validation of our creation lies… but for the listener/viewer/whatever that could not be further from the truth. My enjoyment of something has nothing to do with how many other people are also enjoying that thing.
“Human life is a gift of immeasurable worth, and it deserves, always and everywhere, to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.”
I am going to take what Mother Teresa said about human life and apply it to human attention. As a consumer of media, your attention is not reducible to a number, because it is a unique individual experience. It is all too easy for creators to forget this and it is too common for their audience not to remind them.
At last! We have reached the end of this article … It wasn’t a straight path to get here, but life is so rarely simple. If you think there is (at least some) reason in what I have said, I have a request to make. If you are a creator, remember that your audience is a collection of individuals, not just a single number. If you are a consumer of content (which we all are in this day and age), spend the extra time to reach out to the creators you love and make sure they know how much you value their work.
Levi Hersh is a fictional writer. To check out his work, visit his website @ levihersh.com.